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REVIEW: Ishmael Ensemble + Hamlet

Part One: Hamlet

Matthew Kilner: Saxophone
Gavin Hunter: Trumpet And Flugelhorn
Neil Kendal: Guitar
Finley Campbell: Bass Guitar
Richard Glassby: Drums

The Hamlet quintet were back together in Aberdeen on Thursday and on top form. The sense of pure energy and enjoyment in playing together blazed out and infected us all in the audience. There was above all a sense of fun and sheer enjoyment in their performance. In their opening number, Illusion, Finley Campbell’s hard driven throbbing bass and Richard Glassby’s drums set the exciting background for Matthew Kilner’s ‘funky’ sax playing.

Their second piece described as An Afro Beat Number started with drums and bass and led into a fabulous duo between sax and trumpet. Neil Kendal gave us a high flying guitar solo then the duo came back and the music picked up speed almost terrifyingly.

The combo had no title for the next piece either although they suggested that on Halloween the audience could suggest something with pumpkins or ghosts. How about ‘Tricks and Treats’? Composed originally for singer Nadya Albertsson it had a seductively smooth flugelhorn solo for Gavin Hunter as well as a dreamy guitar solo.

The next piece originally entitled Richard Glassby’s Afro Disco was retitled for Halloween as Richard Ghostby’s Haunted Disco and Matthew Kilner got us all to join in singing out these words.

Twenty-Three had great solos from trumpet, sax and guitar while Hamlet’s final offering, Chip In The Wall, had a running bass, a chattering trumpet solo and Neil Kendal with a guitar solo that was pure jazz, as good as it gets.

Part Two: Ishmael Ensemble

Pete Cunningham: Sax and Electronics
Jake Spurgeon: Keyboards and Electronics
Stephen Mullins: Guitar and Associated Electronics
Rory O'Gorman: Drums

The four members of Ishmael Ensemble make a fabulous big sound. Their style was actually unlike anything I had heard before. It is way modern, out of this world. These are the sounds that should have been in the Cantina Band in Star Wars but it was more like trad. jazz. The use of electronics created a kind of continuity of sound. It was as if the group were building levels of sound that were transformed within themselves giving me the feeling I got as a little boy with my first toy kaleidoscope only these were in sound not vision. The changes in shape and colours were there in a similar way though. What was particularly fascinating was the way in which rhythm was always king. It did not just come from the drums which tended to simply amplify and play with what was coming from elsewhere in the music. Most often Pete Cunningham’s sax would emerge out of the blend to come to the front in the music. He was great but I was particularly fascinated by guitarist Stephen Mullins often attacking his strings with fierce energy in repeated scrubbings and trillings and sliding manically up and down the fingerboard. He also had what looked like a plectrum that glowed with an electric blue light. He told me later that this could give a bowing effect. Jake Spurgeon with his array of keyboard electronics was really ‘into’ the music. In fact all the players would swing along with the rhythms generated in the music. Except perhaps the drummer Rory O’Gorman who was stuck on the stool behind the drums, but then, he was able to express himself with his sticks.

Yellow House had a sax solo with a funky rhythm and the busy hands on guitar were a fascination.

In The River the sax had long held notes and a more abstract melodic line merging into the general sound before the drums seized the centre of interest. The electronics developed a huge orchestral sound in this piece and then the keyboardist had the advantage in projecting melody.

Tunnels was rhythmically very powerful with repeated chords and then the final piece was slower with seductive sax playing and an electronically generated bass to which the drummer responded by delivering real excitement.

This was an amazing ‘experimental’ jazz performance absolutely perfect for the soundfestival.