Image: Andrew Whiting
Free Range is a series of live performance and improvisation events taking place in Canterbury on Thursday evenings. The ritual of the weekly grind dictates I go to work on Fridays and living over an hour away (previously several hours away) I’ve not really had chance to attend Free Range events in the past, despite repeated recommendations from friends and colleagues. That all changed last week when, for once, schedules aligned. Not only did I manage to make the last in the most recent series of regular Thursday concerts, I was able to attend Free Range City – a day-long retrospective festival forming part of the International Festival of Projections (somewhat inexplicably). Two events for the price of one.Bargain! I say ‘price’… true to the series’ name it costs absolutely nothing to attend Free Range events. Unless you want beer. Sadly, beer is not free.
Squeezed into Canterbury’s Water Lane Coffeehouse, punting paraphernalia safely strapped to the walls and daylight gliding away behind historic rooftops, an enthralled audience turned up to watch Laura Jud’s Jazz Quartet, Dinosaur. As a prelude to proceedings, Free Range brainchild Sam Bailey performed a short and wryly comic improvisation for prepared piano and spoken voice.
Suitably titillated, the gathered mass stood, leaned and shuffled toward the stage area for the main attraction. Jurd’s group did not disappoint. Their musical style shows clear influences from a broad range of sources. Coltrane- and Davis-like textures drifted by. There was a quote from Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. Dinosaur’s style idiomatically blends illusions to all sorts of great music and lashings of infectious originality. Synths, piano, electric bass and kit support Jurd’s leading but rarely showy trumpet. In fact, even as she warmed up for the performance, I found myself drawn to her superb control of volume and tone. These are, of course, vital technical tools for a trumpeter playing in a tightly packed room clad with hard reflective surfaces. Nobody wants to be deafened, neither by an overzealous trumpet, nor enthusiastic bandmembers turning it up to eleven to match. This was controlled , heartfelt playing and music that’s genuinely fun to listen to.
There are shades of North London in Dinosaur’s sound. It reminded me of many a hipster joint. That said, it was short on pretention and big on musicality, which really set it apart from the insipid, trying-too-hard-to-be-trendy sounds favoured by the worst of the over-bearded and over-entitled the Shoreditch area has to offer. Both Dinosaur and Jurd could do a roaring trade in that part of the world (and they quite possibly do), but they’re wise to cast their net wider. They have so much to offer and the ears of audiences everywhere are ready and waiting, even if they don’t know it yet.
Apparently, Dinosaur are releasing a CD in the autumn. I, for one, will be buying a copy.
Free Range City was a very different affair. Over the course of 6 hours the quad at the centre of UKC’s depressingly drab Rutherford College was transformed into a carnival of improvisation and free play, complete with elated children bouncing around like pinballs. The artists I managed to see in action included Evan Parker, AMM (John Tilbury and Eddie Prévost), Will Guthrie, Matt Wright, Alison Blunt and Robert Stillman. The full line-up was brimming with plenty of others.
The day was only vaguely structured, which added to the improvisational spirit, but meant you ended up missing things. Overrunning sets were a similar problem, but I’m not sure I cared all that much. Some of the performances were amazing, in particular Will Guthrie and Robert Stillman.
I get the feeling that Free Range City was not just a good opportunity well-taken by Sam Bailey, but a potential template for similar events in future. If that’s the case then I very much look forward to the next one. I only hope there’s more space and a less mortuary-like coldness to the venue.
To cut a long story short, it’s damn inconvenient that I have to work on Fridays.