Agustí Fernández Celebration Ensemble – 20th July ’15

Strings, lots of wind, and hitting things to make a noise…

Agustí Fernández (piano)
Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophone)
Pablo Ledesma (alto & soprano saxophones)
Nate Woolley (trumpet)
Frances-Marie Uitti (cello)
Joe Morris (guitar)
Ingar Zach (percussion)
Núria Andorrà (percussion)

Birthdays, getting older, it’s not so bad. Especially if you’re Agustí Fernández and choose to have your party on-stage with seven or eight talented friends. Not to sound too voyeuristic, but it seemed a good party just watching from the audience…

Appropriately enough, the piano starts us off – muted by strategically-placed wooden blocks, wiry notes are ejected from under the lid. Shortly, Fernández is joined by Morris’s utterly non-idiomatic guitar randomness, and Woolley’s gently industrial interjections (achieved by using a piece of metal sheeting as a mute). Some subtle, four-handed percussion shimmers in the background, and Gustafsson begins to breathe…

Now everyone’s on-board and the overall sound picture escalates from the initial low-key minimalism to much more dramatic drones and whines – higher volume and higher pitch. Yet, it seems no time at all, before everyone dies back again and we’re left with just the sound of Agustí’s hands on keys and strings. This ebb and flow, loud and soft, high and low becomes the theme of the next hour and quarter of free improvisation… little if anything else is repeated, but that tidal flow of sound remains a constant.

Within this cycle, there is no shortage of moments, brief, ephemeral and delicious: heavy percussion underpinning baritone bursts, with a filigree of decelerating clockwork guitar; a vibrantly luminous piano and guitar duet; long, languorous trumpet lines flow out towards us, as tiny embellishments from the others build and coalesce; a dense cloud of sound pushing, twisting and writhing, from which individual instruments emerge for brief moments; baritone and alto in a bizarre courtship dance, like deranged, personality-disordered whales mating; a trumpet-alto dialogue in which Ledesma humorously decorates Woolley’s every original utterance; Fernández practically climbing into the piano to execute some serious altered-reality sound manipulations…

There are eight people on stage and still a sense of great space between the contributions. I ascribe this to the sensitivity of the individuals to what’s happening around them, whether blowing/scraping/pummelling or just standing in waiting, each person appears utterly immersed in the sound. Of course impressions may differ. A friend who was in the audience, felt the interaction was at times too polite and as a result never quite took off. Another friend found it better with eyes closed, enjoying a synesthetic parade of colours and shapes. All experience is subjective – free improvisation doubly so.

About 30 or 40 minutes in, enter Sònia Sánchez stage right, barefoot. With her unique blend of dance styles and traditions, she provides a visual (and highly personal) interpretation of the sounds around her. She moves as if the puppet of the music but with slightly tangled strings. There’s an entirely appropriate contrast of fluidity and dissonance to her movements as she elegantly flows and jerks across the stage.

Sánchez dips off-stage, and returns as the eight musicians commence to hit it hard for a noisy and chaotic final movement. Now wearing shoes, Sánchez adds her own quirky, flamenco-inflected sound responses to the mix, resulting in a dark and sinister 9-piece finale – atonal and end-of-the-world.