Quest Ensemble and Flux fuse flamenco, Indo-jazz and classical at the Vortex

London locals, Quest Ensemble and Flux, invited a packed-out Vortex down two contrasting tangents last Thursday. The former, described as a jazz-inflected classical piano trio, struck a path through a maze of minimal textures à la Steve Reich; dense with premeditated artifice, sparse with superficiality. The latter ventured in exuberant and beat-infused style beyond these shores via their smorgasbord of sounds from Flamenco to Hindustani classical. Why this intriguing double-bill you may ask? The answer lies with violinist Preetha Narayanan who appeared in both ensembles and for whom this concert seemed a veritable celebration of these young groups; a point not lost on the audience.

Quest Ensemble began the evening with a set of originals from their debut Footfall (2014); a disc that would not be amiss in the Bermuda triangle between Cinematic Orchestra, Phillip Glass and EST. Filipe Sousa gave velocity to the performance with his virtuosic ostinati while cellist Tara Franks and Narayanan on violin wove alternating patchworks of chord and discord, displaying an obvious familiarity from extensive collective playing. All former Guildhall students, the trio came grounded in a visibly classical aesthetic, but perhaps due to their collaborative compositional process (inspired by bizarre locations from London basements to a former leper hospice) they seemed joyfully natural, Sousa especially so, in their willingness to break beyond the dots.

Compositionally complex, inventive in technique (three-way pizzicato dueling on ‘Train’, no less) and wonderfully ambiguous in tonality, this was a joy to behold. Live visual artist Somang Lee further upped the experimental-ante with her projected combos of ink, plastic, glass and kitchen spray. Despite occasional cravings for more melodic lyricism, Quest Ensemble, with the aid of Lee, beautifully pulled off their stated aim to capture a “sense of place.”

Following this rich odyssey was no easy task, but four-piece fusion band Flux earnestly rose to the occasion. Also relatively new to the scene, Fluxreleased their embryonic EP Mirror in 2012. With a shift of gear, nylon-string specialist Suroj Sureshbabu laid down a finger-blurring percussive beat, swiftly followed by Michael Goodey on piano, acclaimed bansuri master Shammi Pithia and of course Narayanan. Inspired by the soundworld of Nitin Sawhney the group oscillated from one cultural imaginary to the next, drawing South Asian and Flamenco rhythmically and tonally into line within the hybridized electronic genre of so-called ‘World Beat’.

While some of the individual playing was not as impressive as that of the support act, Pithia and Narayanan were nonetheless compelling and poetic soloists, if occasionally overpowering, and Sureshbabu admirably filled the musical void left by a lack of percussion or bass. To crown the invigorating mix of the night, both bands combined forces for a final set. Full of conviction and energy, the two bands are worth pursuing for fusion fans and a pleasure to witness among such hearty home support.

– Tommie Black-Roff

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