By: Dave Brooks
Islington Metal Works, London | July 4, 2016
Kid A got me into Autechre. Amnesiac pushed me more towards Miles. Jeff Buckley was next after hearing The Bends, whereas King of Limbs was the Dutch courage needed for Zomby’s Where Were You in ‘92. For so many twenty-somethings Radiohead have eclipsed the competition as the tastemakers-in-chief, consistently releasing records that point to the outer edges; gateways to something less chart. Thom Yorke’s Ableton frotting may be a Pitchforker’s wet dream, but in recent years the true torchbearer has been Jonny Greenwood. By penning critically-acclaimed soundtracks for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice, and touring with the London Contemporary Orchestra, Greenwood has chaperoned a listenership more In Rainbows than into Reich towards the world of contemporary classical music.
Tonight’s performance at the Islington Metal Works showcases the influence that the Radiohead guitarist’s pilotage has had upon his followers. Launching their debut album Oil, London-based saxophone quartet Kaleidoscope have paid reverence to the master, prying three of his compositions into a set list that also includes works by Gavin Bryars, Oliver Christophe Leith, Steve Martland, Jenni Watson, and Kaleidoscope’s own John Rittipo-Moore.
Leith’s ‘A Day at the Spa I’ springs into life with flurried slews of shell-shocked soprano, before Greenwood’s ‘Iron Swallow’ bounds into play, Sally MacTaggart’s wry lead hovering elegantly above a mischievous succession of taut orchestral stabs. Another Greenwood creation follows – this time it’s (deep breath) ‘Toki no Senrei wo Uketeinai mono wo Yomuna’ from 2010’s soundtrack to Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood – before Leith’s ‘A Day at the Spa II’ bleeds into focus.
Splitting it into its two movements for the first time, today’s performance marks a fresh start for ‘A Day at the Spa’. The piece – written for the quartet by close friend and collaborator Oliver Christophe Leith – has been a staple of the quartet’s repertoire for over a year now, but today’s performance brings new light to its wealth of textural and microtonal intricacies, not always so apparent without Greenwood’s more user-friendly interlude. Ornamented by swathes of jumbled saxophone-key patter, Part Two’s anguished sopranos float arrhythmically above a cyclical baritone accompaniment unwaveringly upheld by Rittipo-Moore, who with each new breath elicits sumptuous cascades of lustrous harmonics: dust sparkling in moonlight.
A shift in dynamic comes a few songs later, when Rittipo-Moore’s gutsy baritone bombards into a dexterous re-imagining of Steve Martland’s ‘Short Story’. His bluff rasp faithfully underpins the trio of far-reaching altos; the addition of a drum kit and bass guitar adding a hip-hop marching band punch that wouldn’t sound out of place in Geoff Barrow’s Quakers – coincidently another act that has paid its dues to Greenwood & Co. Though allowing plenty of space for fleet-fingered counterpoint, Chris Brice’s drums are unfortunately a little too muted. A bold addition hesitantly executed, they’d benefit from a little extra muscle to really propel the marauding baritone backings. If Kaleidoscope can manage this whilst maintaining their vibrant alto-based counterpoint, they could even open doors to something as yet undiscovered.
‘Short Story’’s 3/4 stomp concludes assertively with two vertiginous stabs, and all that’s left is the album’s eponymous lead, Rittipo-Moore’s ‘Oil’. Moonlighting as a film-maker, Kaleidoscope’s Ian Dingle has prepared a visual accompaniment for this final track, though his sumptuous, aqueous study is largely lost on an audience craning their necks to make out the stage right screen. It’s a shame: given the right layout the footage would further heighten the impact of Aaron Burrows’ bracing modal keys cutting through ‘Oil’’s twinkling introduction, some three minutes in. There’s a distinctly Amnesiac-era Radiohead feel to the mournful horns and distorted E-bow tremolo that ensue, and the significant restraint shown in not descending into cacophony echoes Radiohead fan favourites from that era such as ‘You and Whose Army?’ and ‘Pyramid Song’.
It’s right that Kaleidoscope’s performance gives a salutary nod to Greenwood’s work. The man has done more than any other to dispel contemporary classical’s reputation as an art form too high-brow, too pretentious and too inaccessible for your everyday six-stringer. Introducing ‘Toki no Senrei wo’, Rittipo-Moore jokes: “Unfortunately Jonny couldn’t be here tonight.” Still, Greenwood’s influence is felt. More importantly, Jenni Watson is here tonight, watching on from the audience in delight as Kaleidoscope give an emotive rendition of her composition ‘Tinged’. Oliver Christophe Leith is here too, manning the electric guitar and E-bow duties during ‘Oil’’s glimmering outro. There are a lot of good minds in and around this quartet, and Kaleidoscope could take their project in any number of directions. This one’s optimistic.
Oil is available to purchase on Kaleidoscope’s website now. You can stream Oil on Spotify and iTunes as well. You can catch them at the Buxton Festival, Derbyshire on July 16th, and at the Wallace Collection, London on 25th July. Full tour details are available here.