The Necks/James McVinnie and Tom Jenkinson @ The Town Hall, Leeds

Posted by vibrations on 13-04-16

Tom Jenkinson’s new compositions for organ started gently, with lyrical looping melodies inspired by "rolling in space". As expected from someone who has spent the last 20 years creating demented drum and bass as Squarepusher, things soon started to fracture. Organist James McVinnie had mentioned in his brief intro the dubious word ‘virtuoso’ in relation to Jenkinson’s bass playing, and I took this to mean that things might get hectic. McVinnie didn’t disappoint, keeping a lightness of touch whilst the score did its best to describe what a virtuoso lunatic might sound like let loose on an instrument as monumental as this organ. The extent to which this music engenders an analytical or an emotional response I haven’t quite figured out, either way it left a lasting impression of confusion and wonderment in equal measure. I’m not quite sure if this work revealed particular secrets of the organ or more Jenkinson’s compositional intent, which even if you’re a fan of his electronic work is hard enough to comprehend, but it certainly showed what an incredible collaborator and performer James McVinnie is.
 
Neatly wrapping around this central enigma were 2 short pieces by Philip Glass, which surprisingly did benefit from the organ’s in-your-face attitude, although they didn’t last long enough or have any substantial dynamic range to really build into an interesting journey (although it did occur to me that I might just be bored of Philip Glass). Nonetheless they were interesting enough to make we wonder what an organ interpretation of his longer work or film scores might be like.
 
So it fell to The Necks to bring some kind of balance to the experimental but tightly controlled tilt of the evening, and initially it seemed possible. With a cautious double bass prodding gently alongside a slightly nervous swing of hi-hats and phased cow-bells, for a while it seemed the mighty organ had been tamed. Unfortunately things soon got swamped in increasing waves of wallowing bass and effects. Despite losing their way a few times (although who can tell when the map is so fuzzy?) there were some really clear, evocative moments to enjoy as brief melodic phrases were teased out by the trio. There was however a feeling of inevitability about the whole thing, ironic given The Necks' improvisational approach and recorded work. At times I would have been quite happy to simply hear Chris Abrahams’ adventure into the organ’s heart, which increasingly got drowned out in the battle of wills that seemed to be going on with the double bass.
 
It would be interesting to hear how closely The Necks' other performances on this tour compared, because even allowing for the preceding mind-bending experiments, this one was disappointingly one-dimensional, a fairly controlled descent into drone. As the organ became more urgent in a desperate attempt to find some secrets, we became engulfed in a terrifying, drowning storm.  Deep fissures opened up beneath the Town Hall until soon the entire building started sinking into a huge cavernous pit. Petrified stone creatures howled outside the door, but we were trapped inside, transfixed at the unearthly blue glow of the organ-monument as the world around became submerged. Would secrets now be revealed only for us to be buried with them? My last memory before going under was of something overheard moments earlier - “But I only came here to listen to some nice music…"

Review by Mike Davies