Improvisational music often carries the implicit threat of inconsistency, as even the best musicians can find themselves at a loss when trying to collaborate without sharing a structured composition. Not so the music of Damo Suzuki, whose real genius, despite his prodigious vocal talents, lies in his ability to inspire fellow performers to renew and reinvigorate their epic collective improvisations with a rare consistency. This is a talent honed over decades of touring, making spontaneous compositions with numerous “sound carriers” (local musicians recruited in each town) which despite sometimes wild stylistic variations are always intense and fiercely compelling. Joined by members of Wozniak, St Jude’s Infirmary and Optic Nerve, Suzuki took the stage at The Mash House on Sunday night to deliver just such a performance.
Suzuki’s sound carriers appeared on stage without ceremony, the ambience created by support act Cave Year’s vaporwave electronica still hanging in the air. Beatific bowed guitar and skittering percussion let the audience know that the performance was beginning, before a more dissonant wall of sound accompanied the man himself up to the microphone. Immediately Suzuki launched into a meditative, wordless chant which transformed the lush but directionless soundscape into a kind of shoegazing hymn. Tension building, with guitars and keyboard shifting the vibe from dark to light and back again, Suzuki let loose a bluesy howl, and the rhythm section got the message. Intricate drum work propelled the piece into a lengthy section of hypnotic kosmische musik, not dissimilar to the singer’s groundbreaking work with CAN in the 1970s. In response, Suzuki began passionately scatting nonsense syllables which intertwined with the percussion, focusing the jamming of his fellow performers around a single infectious rhythm. As the resultant crescendo petered out into near-silence, Suzuki’s voice became a soulful croon, and drew together fragmented guitar strums and keyboard stabs into a pounding maelstrom, the performance galloping to a euphoric conclusion.
This single, forty-five minute improvisation made up the whole of the gig. A shorter show than expected, but it felt shorter still, so caught up in the performance was everyone present. Suzuki acted as both vocalist and conductor throughout, creating drama by guiding the music at the same time as he reacted to it, and though some over-long sequences and over-loud guitars meant that it wasn’t a perfect gig, there was a sense among the crowd of having witnessed something truly special. This was a performance that showcased the very best elements of improvised music, and Damo Suzuki’s remarkably consistent run continues.
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