Nocturna Discordia #14 at Soda – 18th Feb ’15

El Pricto (clarinet)
Naná Rovira (bass clarinet)
Luiz Rocha (bass clarinet)
Owen Kilfeather (conducting)

Billing themselves as the “Black Sabbath Clarinet Trio” was a sure way to get my anticipatory juices flowing. I may be into all kinds of improvisatory weirdness these days but I grew up on classic rock and 80s metal. Any attempt at melding the two is bound to excite, and anybody following ‘a Jazz Noise’ on Facebook will know that we recently had a Black Sabbath Week with jazz versions of “Paranoid” and “Iron Man”, etc. So, travelling to Gràcia, I’m a little bit psyched.

Before things got under way, while listening to Soda’s vinyl selection (this week was Greek bouzouki music – go figure) I got the chance to ask, “Why Sabbath?” The answer was pretty much, why not? It seemed like a good idea and Messrs Kilfeather and Pricto had spent the afternoon raiding Spotify and writing arrangements. Bold.

What was interesting was that although the audience wasn’t exactly huge (mind you, I’ve seen a lot smaller for an improv gig) it was definitely enthusiastic – definite murmurings of expectation, even a postmodern ironic lazy yell of, “Heavy metal!” Two bass clarinets? It’s definitely going to be heavy…

Out of a thundercloud of honking, squawking, vibrato-laden energy, the riff emerges and the first song turns out to be none other than “Black Sabbath”, played with buckets of menace (and possibly a tongue or two in cheek) it’s quite something to hear Tony Iommi’s guitar lines transduced through a growling bass clarinet. As soon as the song is clearly signposted, we descend into a suitably Discordian pointillistic 3-way deconstruction, with ‘that’ riff every now and then rising above the waves. Judas Priest’s Rob Halford has called it, “…probably the most evil song ever written,” but it’s clear that Soda is in the mood for doom tonight.

Next up is “The Wizard”. Pricto’s clarinet takes the intro, while Rocha & Rovira embellish and add a little weight. Rocha then takes the lead against a backdrop of free squealing. It’s another mix of the highly and barely recognisable, combining total unpredictability with just enough familiarity to give the ear a guide. If by this point, you think I’m wearing a big stupid grin, you’d be right; especially after Rovira takes a solo and digs in, knees bending, to tear the notes from her instrument – heavy metal, indeed.

Cries of “War Pigs” prove prescient and all three give us the opening in unison, but a slightly twisted version – maybe it’s just the basic voice of the clarinet but there’s a touch of the eastern here.

A judderingly staccato intro transforms into a beautifully dirge-like “Fairies Wear Boots” which nevertheless seems to somehow invoke the ghost of Albert Ayler; a strangely wonderful combination of influences. As ever with those mischievous Discordianites, humour is never far away and we finish on a bout of semi-synchronised coughing which I take as a nod to the intro of “Sweet Leaf”.

Given the timing, four songs arranged is impressive, yet the audience are clearly wanting more. Happy to oblige, Rocha begins coughing, gurgling and even singing through his instrument. Out of this chaos, something quite lyrical emerges from Rocha and Rovira, while Pricto seats himself at the house piano and starts picking out pretty descending lines in contrast. All in all, a nice off-the-cuff coda to the set.

So, almost an hour’s delicious genre-mashing, much fun was taken by all, and quite frankly, I’d pay good money to get hold of a decent recording of it all. Happily, it would seem that this event is not a one-off. The trio returns on March 20th, fortified with drums and new arrangements of yet more tunes from Ozzy & Co. Can’t wait.