Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap - Purcell Room, Saturday 24 Nov - London Jazz Festival

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It’s a rare occasion when you can go to a concert and have as little clue about what you’re going to hear as the musicians do.  This was the unusual situation for former Yes and King Crimson legend Bill Bruford, and Dutch improviser Michiel Borstlap in their concert-length improvisation session in the Purcell Room.  Borstlap instantaneously composed the melody on piano and keyboard, while Bruford provided extensive percussive accompaniment on a myriad of drums, bells, cymbals and gongs; many of which were suspended from a huge frame behind him. Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap - Purcell Room, Saturday 24 Nov - London Jazz Festival
Considering the fluidity of the main act, the decidedly more pre-composed group Portico Quartet were an odd choice for support.  They took this chance to showcase their debut album, Knee Deep in the North Sea, only released two weeks previously, and to demonstrate their bizarrely chilled style on soprano sax, drums, bass and inverted steel pans.  The simultaneously percussive, yet melodic, pans lent their playing a hypnotic atmosphere; building soundscapes of sea, sun and even slight ethereality.  Portico’s slightly offbeat instrumentation prefigured Bruford’s experimental improvisation project somewhat, but the audience were unprepared for what was to come.

Growing from a germ of creativity to a fully fledged duet between pianist and drummer, this pair of accomplished musicians taunted each other into being the first to take the lead.  With one piece entitled ‘Low Tide at Camber Sands’, this was music of personal enjoyment where nostalgia and chaos reigned.  The nature of this spontaneous performance meant that each piece found real success near its closure, as each player grew to know the others’ style.  Borstlap’s keyboard passages occasionally took a misguided turn towards Europop, but every sound was intriguingly fleeting as it shifted tempestuously between a carefree openness and a compendium of carefully constructed rhythms and melodies.

Catherine Marks