Agustí Fernández (piano)
Ivo Sans (drums)
Ilan Manouach (soprano sax)

Robadors 23 has this happy quality of being a tiny little cave of a place that nevertheless attracts hugely talented ‘name’ musicians who are more often seen drawing audiences at larger and much fancier venues. Which is a long-winded way of saying, if you want to hear great music in an intimate atmosphere, it’s the place to go.

Agustí Fernández, for example is a dynamic and influential improviser collaborating and playing all over Spain and beyond – I only get to a fraction of the gigs I’d like to and yet I’ve still seen this guy four times this year. I’ve enjoyed Ivo Sans’ drumming previously too, with his quartet which is, let’s say, a little more song-structured in its repertoire, so it was nice to hear him stretch out on a more freely-improvised set. As for Ilan Manouach, although he was new to me, that’s my fault rather than his. A quick ferret online and he turns out to be something of a renaissance man: editor, artist, comic book writer, and… musician. Judging by the two or three photographers at the front of the audience, the video and sound recording equipment, plus the presence of at least a couple of musicians who’ve featured in earlier reviews, this evening is a ‘big deal’.

So, what happened? In a nutshell, it was a masterclass of close listening, apparent telepathy, and a variety of techniques both traditional and extended. If I was to veer towards an artistic metaphor, Fernández and Sans were painting a rich, varied and constantly-evolving landscape over which Manouach splashed his expressionistic swathes of colour and emotion (if that description sounds a little pretentious, well, you get the idea).

What was fascinating – as ever – was to see this landscape, this sound sculpture, being created. The emotive sideways jerks of the saxophone. The feet on the drums. The fierce and joyous looks of concentration as the opened piano is played harp-like, koto-sounding. Oh, and jazz-face. Serious jazz-face all round: grimaces, grins and everything in between.

By way of example, one perfect moment… a series of plaintive soprano cries, accompanied by subtle fingers tapping on the skins, then after a minute or so of rising tension, a howling lament and just as it began to fade, a broken chord from the piano so perfectly timed as to hint at some kind of enlightenment. Ah!

Fifty or so minutes of bliss and then we wander out into the late autumn night (not before buying a CD or two, naturally) pondering our luck at being able to share in such an experience.

(BTW, this event attracted no less than three photogs, all of whom got some really great pics: Dani Alvarez, Joan Cortès and Elena Márquez.)

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