Brull Session 13Aug15Ilona Schneider (vox soprano)
Diego Caicedo (guitar)
El Pricto (alto saxophone)
Sandro Manzon (piano)
Patxi Varela (drums)

Summer heat? Sheer apathy? Vacaciones? There’s a kind of laissez-faire lethargy that descends on Barcelona in August and any musician who prefers to play to packed houses had best take the month off. In other words, we start with just six in the audience. That said, I’ve seen smaller at other times of year, and the people here seem genuinely attentive to what’s before them – that’s what counts.

Personally, I’m intrigued to see how Ilona Schneider’s voice fits in with the usual improvisatory insanity. Have to admit, I can be hard to please when it comes to vocals. I’ve seen Schneider’s name on various gigs around town but by coincidence this is the first one I’ve attended; I’ve no idea what to expect.

So, half a dozen sets of buttocks are settled comfortably and we begin…

Jagged alto, fragmented piano, delicate percussive hints, and warm guitar accents. So far, so good. Enter Schneider: short sibilant bursts and trills, engaging with the flurries of notes suddenly coming from both guitar and piano. It’s voice as pure instrument, a producer of sounds rather than words; a nice beginning all round.

Manzon spends a lot of time with one hand inside the upright piano, manipulating the strings and sounds in various ways, including the use of an empty beer bottle and one of those wire head massage things; it may seem like oddness for the sake of oddness but he’s getting some genuinely unusual sounds out of the old joanna that complement his disjointed anti-melodies.

(Photo courtesy of Maria Pappalardi)
(Photo courtesy of Maria Pappalardi)

Early on, Varela uses mallets, giving the cymbal work a rich, gong-like shimmer while coaxing textures from a selection of singing bowls. And not to be outdone on the quirk front, he utilises a dog’s squeaky toy later on, and drops something clockwork into one of the bowls – it’s a little goofy but it works in (playful) context.

El Pricto deploys much of his regular arsenal of near-inaudible, exaggerated breathing, and tongue slap techniques, and yet… at times he’s positively lyrical, producing some sustained and sinuous melodic lines (still pretty unpredictable , though).

Likewise, although Caicedo does at one point cover his pickups with sheet metal and attack it with a metal rod, he more often sticks to a more regular ‘guitar-y’ sound; creating extended asymmetrical patterns of notes as his fingers hopscotch across the fretboard.

Schneider is often restrained and subtle in her contributions: delicate warbles, moans and cries, practically bird calls at times, frequently choosing to augment others, enhancing the sax, guitar and piano in turn but never becoming a traditional dominating vocalist. The delicacy and control is much appreciate and – unusually for me – I find myself wishing her mic volume was little higher. In the sense of “always leave ‘em wanting more”, Ilona Schneider may have stolen the show.

Ultimately though, it’s a collaborative endeavour and the best moments are when each contribution combines with the rest in a kind of sedimentary musical collage and I stop scribbling, breathe, relax and let the torrent of sound flow over and around me – transitory bliss!

And the audience? We managed a dozen by the end.