November 8, 2010 5:59 pm

Chris Abrahams, Café Oto, London

Like many free jazz gigs, no one seemed quite sure how it should finish, writes Mike Hobart

Chris Abrahams is best known as the pianist with the left-facing Australian jazz trio The Necks. At this gig, his acoustic solo spot was the climax to a triple bill that celebrated the 10th anniversary of ambient specialists Room40’s projects with industrial noise, shifting textures and oddball beats.

Italian drummer Andrea Belfi opened, seated behind a battered, electronically wired raft of percussion and drums, working reverberating gongs and muffled, loose-skinned rhythms into a gentle ambient drone. Nothing much happened – a scatter of rattling bones and a harsh beep stood out – but the cumulative effect was gradually increasing tension.

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The middle act was much more fun, though the sight of five casually dressed men staring intently at laptops, consoles and short, stubby keyboards didn’t augur well. They hadn’t met as a unit for 10 years, and then only to record for Room40’s record label, but they created a maelstrom of textures on the hoof with remarkable sensitivity.

The UK’s David Toop fed snatches of flute, steel guitar and everyday sounds – seeds poured on to paper, crinkled plastic wrappers and snapped twigs – into the machinations of Scanner’s rhythmic twists and the laptop-heavy Australian trio I/03; the only distraction was the constant drone of guitarist Heinz Riegler’s e-bow. The mangled scratches and guttural hums pulsed rhythmically. Like many free jazz gigs, no one seemed quite sure how it should finish before a squelch and low rumble faded into the distance.

Abrahams achieved the same industrial effects without a knob in sight. Opening with a much-repeated skewed pentatonic, he reduced all movement to a single, repeated upper-register note. At first it was so far spaced, and so random, that it sounded like someone tuning a piano. Over quite a few minutes, Abrahams accelerated, stripping out any idea of pitch and filling the entire room with the sound of the piano’s essential make-up: a hammer crashing on to a taut wire in a wooden box. The eventual shift into climactic low-register rumbles of overlapping harmonics was almost a relief. (

3 star rating
) www.cafeoto.co.uk

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