Black Top boogie on down for Sardinian Extravaganza

This exciting initiative taken by London-based vocalist Filomena Campus is the best possible advert for cross-cultural exchange at a time of internal strife in Europe. Billed as 'Alghero incontra Londra' the meeting of musicians from the enchantingly beautiful Sardinian city of Alghero and the dizzying metropolis that is London produces a pleasing contrast of styles as well as proof of the value of spontaneous collaboration. Staged at Poco Loco, a well-appointed restaurant with a spacious stage and good acoustics the double bill presents local players, bassist Salvatore Maltana and guitarist Marcello Peghin as well as British visitors, Black Top, aka pianist Pat Thomas and vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. The two duos are ably representative of their respective heartlands. Each has its own take on a wide range of traditions.

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Maltana and Peghin (above) are players upholding a long lineage of European musicians who embrace improvisation while referencing a folk heritage that is rich to say the least. Having said that both the jazz and western pop culture of these musicians is anything but superficial and Peghin's affinity to the work of Wayne Shorter and Neil Young makes him an artist with a substantial stylistic well from which to draw. His touch is assured and his alternation of bulbous, resonant chords, enhanced by a broad necked 10-string guitar, and fleet, serpentine single note lines brings a fair amount of detail to the table. Maltana's upright bass is perhaps a touch underpowered at first but soon settles info fruitful dialogue with Peghin in which melodies are clearly articulated and solos bring out the woody timbres of the two acoustic instruments.

Much anticipation greets Black Top primarily because it is a largely unknown quantity in Sardinia, and Thomas and Robinson's setup – synthesizers and iPads as well as piano and vibraphone make it clear that the musicians will be delving into electronics and quotidian sound as well as lending themselves to on-the-spot creativity. There are a few stares of bemusement at the first part of the performance as Robinson triggers myriad spoken word samples and effects and the music takes shape slowly from a series of atmospheric soundscapes that snap and crackle away, conjuring up the sense of a radio show in which voices spark into life at unpredictable junctures. Organically, arrangements dip and swerve but when Robinson takes a ferocious fizzing vibes solo there is a release of tension from the audience as it finally recognizes something that might be called jazz, or the virtuosity synonymous with it.

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As abstract as the music is a great amount of groove drops in and out of earshot, pushing the music into the African-Caribbean rhythmic waters beholden to the identity of the group, and making it clear that the avant-garde with which Thomas and Robinson are largely associated has always engaged with populism since the days of Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk's sprightly forays into calypso. The audience warms further to the theme but there are still a few raised eyebrows over the fact that Black Top pumps up the volume in a way that may be alien to most patrons in a seated venue. It's a fascinating spectacle to see some heads, acclimatising to the extra decibels, starting to nod as the raucous riffing of which both the players are more than capable, takes a hold. If there were any resistance to some of the harder edges of Black Top's sound then, as Campus (above with Robinson) herself stated, that was no bad thing, given that challenging as well as engaging audiences is an essential part of her remit. When all four musicians come together to play a short set at the end of the evening there is also a degree of wrestling with ideas as they search for common ground, with the digital beats eliciting a tougher modal attack from Maltana and strident rhythm work from Peghin. The novel quartet finds a vamp and then twists it into more staggered time before dissolving into a shower of haunting sounds. The encounter is a bracing one, and the presence of several local musicians and dignitaries such as mayor Mario Bruno reflects the importance of the project.

Luckily for British audiences the circle will be complete when the Sardinians come to London in November for two nights at Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club where they will be joined by Black Top and several other notable guests such as Cleveland Watkiss, Rod Youngs, Steve Lodder and Marta Capponi.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Carl Hyde

Filomena Campus' Theatralia Jazz Festival takes place on 13-14 November at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean street, Soho, London, W1D 3RW - for more info visit www.pizzaexpresslive.com

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