The year started well for The Improvisers Choir, winning the Nonclassical Battle of the Bands back in January. This occasion saw them team up with the formidable Peter Wiegold and his amazing band at Club Inégales, Euston. Peter has been on a wonderfully rich, varied and successful musical journey: From Durham University to the Guildhall; from Birmingham Contemporary Music Ensemble to working with numerous international ensembles around the world, he has a portfolio most composers and performers only dream of. He specialises in alternative ways of creating music and his Club Inégales is a regular platform for partly composed, conducted and free improvised music. It is fitting that Jenni and TIC came to work with Peter as his work partly inspired and informed Jenni’s current vocal improvised projects.
After Peter’s first piece, showcasing the band and hinting at what was to come, Jenni took the stage with pianist Cassie Yukawa-McBurney to perform Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C, with vocal improvisation.
Bach and Vocal Tai Chi
This experiment, Jenni explained was a culmination of her foray in her vocal improvised style that she has named Vocal Tai Chi. After the first few familiar chords, nostalgically emotive, Jenni began her first note to paint her own colour above. Subtle flourishes cascaded and tumbled gently into lines and curves above the landscape of the piano. Toying with restraint and release, the tension between the contained and the container’s want to burst open, the refined sensibility of Baroque met the tempestuous possibilities of the unrestrained human voice. Several hundred years of explorations into more Romantic and emancipated expression met with that more moderate and discreet time. To hear something so familiar, accustomed to being in a more conservative setting, with such liberties being taken, has the potential to both delight and offend. Jenni’s art is to challenge, question, tease, please and thrill and this was a perfect example.
A further 7 pieces followed, during which the choir and band joined forces, seeking and surveying their rapport, leading us through manifold approaches and sonic realms. Watching and listening to TIC always lights up my brain and initiates a flurry of activity in my neocortex as well as engendering innumerable physical sensations, as my body understands as well as my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts and responses to a selection of my favourite moments.
Birdsong – a Rumi Poem
A voice takes off from the choral ground to intone the words. Then another, releasing itself from the lyric, soars above on avian arms in feathered frenzy. Then text and pulse return to ground us back into our bipedal selves, bringing us back to our earthbound existence. A tease of the tension and longing between the unbounded wordless and the contained energy of words.
A sectional, pre-lingual gospel choir of an ancient world spans millennia and meets the language of more recent times. Different layers of what it is to be human communicate and interact. The choir creates an acoustic arena where creatures and beings of various evolutions meet – perhaps for the first time. It is a delight and, somehow, through a sympathetic resonance between the performers and myself there is a meeting within me also. The facets of my apparent and hidden, inherited psyche rise into awareness and there is a mediation of ancient and current, of primordial and modern.
Show your face and make me forget I exist
The band give dramatic punctuation to the choir’s declamations, underpinning their homophony. Pillars, an architectural foundation for the meaning of the words, underneath and in-between them, they shadow and support, colour and enhance the line. They provide the intention behind the gesture, the purpose behind the phrase. A hymn of both force and reflection culminates in a frenzy of voices, both vocal and instrumental as the the music continually threatens to loose itself.
Oh My Ancient Lover
An ancient lover’s refrain gives respite from the Persian patterning that drives. Multiple traditions combine into an integration that seems both without and entwined with tradition. We are uniquely ourselves yet still of our ancestors. There is a wonder of harmony between these traditionally and conventionally disparate voices. Complexity is carefully bordered around the simple – the entwined meandering of the band around the ground of the Persian pulsating patter.
2 Conductors – No initial material
The choir begins with a characteristic percussive chatter. The band join and add punctuation before finding their own ground. The voices riff above and furrow through this fertile soil, and the ground becomes a landscape, the setting for a journey. A new location emerges, a scene of vocal antiphonal parts. We are led further, onwards into a passage of nascent babbling patterns, interlocking and escalating into a tutti discourse. A discordant descent in pitch and tempo wonderfully brings us resting into a calm and we float into a realm of pristine possibilities. A freedom of space is ranged with economy and a theme is found and met by the band – punctuated, given body and breadth. Finally, and naturally, we are drawn to a conclusion by a lone voice left in the void and the sound gracefully accepts the rest of silence.