Concert: Bugge Wesseltoft / Matthew Herbert at Barbican, Guardian

The Guardian 6 May 2004

06/05/2004 :: (4 stars)

In his day, it could be almost as gripping to watch Thelonious Monk's strange, staggering shuffles and randomly flapping feet as it could be to hear his beautiful music. Matthew Herbert (aka Herbert, Wishmountain, Dr Rockit and Rockit Boy), exhibits the same wayward-limb choreography. He also has some of the same fearless instincts for jamming the apparently incompatible together.

Herbert's Big Band, an assembly of elite session marksmen, played Herbert's complex scores while the leader took live samples of the riffs, bent them and hurled them back in. Herbert, a dome-headed young man in a frock-coat, occasionally left his laboratory of electronica to urge the others on - an action somewhere between the hippest of dancefloor moves and that of a man leaning on a door he didn't think was open. He sampled the clatter of teacups, the squeal of balloons and the - rapturously received - tearing up of a copy of the Daily Mail. A powerful singer, Dani Sicialiano, also acted as both vocalist and sampling source, and changed her clothes three times in what seemed like seconds.

It was full of jazz references, though fine improvising soloists like saxophonist Dave O'Higgins were principally used as passing sound effects. But Herbert's blithe corralling of ballroom dancing, the Munsters, Glenn Miller and free-jazz, is a blast of thematic fresh air from an unexpected source.

There was more spontaneous playing in Norwegian keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft's quintet in the first half, most of it furnished by the virtuosic leader, who has built a big reputation from turning 1970s Miles Davis fusion (with some Jan Garbarek-like sax-mimicking electronics) into steady, hypnotically chilled clubbing trances. Some of the climactic moments for drum machines, kit and hand-drums combined were irresistibly animated, and Wesseltoft's ability to play keyboard jazz and direct the hardware at the same time is very impressive. But it still sounds like music that doesn't require 100% of you to be actually tuned in.

John Fordham

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