Evelyn Glennie And Trio HLK, Howard Assembly Room. It’s Music, But Not As We Know It!
Pioneering Scottish ensemble Trio HLK, comprising Richard Harrold (piano), Richard Kass (drums), and Ant Law (guitar), teamed up with Dame Evelyn Glennie, to give an extraordinary performance at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds.
Trio HLK’s music is almost impossible to categorize. Their debut album ‘Standard Time’, aims to deconstruct classic tunes and rework them using contemporary classical compositional techniques, so that the listener is led into distant territory by a familiar thread.
Glennie has described her collaboration on the album as, “a venture out of my comfort zone”, and joked with the audience that her hair was black before she started to play with them.
At this point, I should say that I’m probably the last person Trio HLK would want as a reviewer – someone with a classical music background, who would prefer to gnaw off their right arm than attend a jazz concert. So no pressure there!
Having said that, in an attempt to expand my musical horizons, I found myself sitting on the front row at the Howard Assembly Room, nervously preparing to review a concert that I suspected would be totally out of my comfort zone. How little did I know!
The majority of the pieces on the programme took as their starting points familiar standards from the Jazz canon, which were disassembled into their rhythmic and melodic constituents, and then reworked to create intricate compositions.
The first piece, ‘Twilt’, based on Jerome Kern’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Much of the melody remained intact, but its phrases were rhythmically distorted – sometimes compressed, sometimes stretched – as it developed.
Unfortunately for me, things didn’t start too well, as an insistent f sharp which continuously and deliberately disrupted the flow of the piece, gave me a strong urge to laugh, as memories of The Fast Show’s ‘Jazz Club’ came to mind.
However, it soon became apparent that, rather than a collection of random sounds, this was carefully crafted music with dense, complex rhythms and textures, performed by three phenomenally talented musicians.
Richard Harrold is the compositional mastermind behind the band. To give some idea of the wide range of his stylistic influences, ‘Anthropometrics’, built from fragments of Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Anthropology’, draws on the serial techniques of the Second Viennese School, drum programming and Bach’s two-part inventions.
Drummer and percussion maestro Richard Kass, has the rare ability to play rhythms at more than one tempo simultaneously, as seen in ‘Dux’, which focuses on three idiomatic elements of Latin Jazz which are overlayed to form a tapestry of counterpoint that is the basis of a series of rhythmic and harmonic games.
Virtuoso guitarist Ant Law plays a bespoke extended range electric guitar with 8 strings, and creates an amazing range of effects, ambience and sonorities.
Trio HLK’s music can feel rather overwhelming at times – there’s almost too much to take in. But if you give it a chance and listen with an open mind, it has a fascinating, cumulative effect which draws you into a soundworld which is immersive, hypnotic and strangely energising.
It is undeniably intellectual, clever music, but it also works on a visceral, emotional level. I was won over by the end of the second piece – quite an achievement considering I’m a self-confessed jazz hater.
All credit must go to Dame Evelyn for supporting this trio of talented, innovative musicians. A generous performer, her participation brought another dimension to the concert. In particular, the vibraphone gave a haunting, other worldly quality to ‘Extra Sensory Perception’, and later in the programme, we were treated to some stunning percussion duets with Richard Kass.
Trio HLK are constantly pushing the boundaries, and are fully aware that their music is challenging – at the end of the evening they thanked their audience for staying with them and listening with open minds.
I can honestly say that I’ve never left a concert feeling so energised, and I wasn’t the only one – there was a real buzz, with people excitedly sharing opinions, and voicing surprise at how much they had enjoyed themselves.
Maybe that was because they were aware that they had just witnessed something rather special.