If you are at all familiar with the northern jazz scene, you will have no doubt heard two names mentioned again and again: Newcastle’s Archipelago and Leeds’ J Frisco. Live from the intimate setting of The Basement, two of the north’s most exciting improvisational trios treated the people of York to a truly astounding live experience.
2017 saw J Frisco perform at numerous major jazz festivals and they rounded off the year with a headline set at the world renowned Vortex Jazz Club in London: if you don’t know them yet, you soon will. They kicked the night off with their masterclass in improvisation ‘Grandfather Clock’, and they really did start as they meant to go on. Their set captivated the audience and guided them through every complex emotion they are capable of feeling, and even unearthed some that couldn’t easily be placed into any one category.
One of J Frisco’s major strengths is their tactile use of varied dynamics: with pieces occupying both extremes of the dynamic scale, and everything in between, their music keeps audiences constantly on their toes. This was best illustrated by ‘Acoustic Cover’, a piece in which the trio hammer rhythmically on their muted instruments: something which proves to be unexpectedly, but brilliantly jarring in a live setting. After a meditative finale to their captivating, opening set, the audience were perfectly primed for the headliners.
Despite referring to them many times as such, labelling Archipelago as simply ‘jazz’ would be severely undermining the incredible versatility of the band’s sound. They draw upon a vast and varying pool of musical influences to craft a signature sound that most acts can only aspire to achieve.
The headliners opened with ‘Red Giant’, a piece which starts out as a delicate Mbira ensemble and crescendos into an incredibly heavy riff doubled up on bass and saxophone. Their immense technicality is only matched by their brilliant compositional boundary pushing: just a couple of minutes into their opening track and it’s easy to see why there is so much buzz around them in the jazz and improvisational scene.
In a set comprised of material from their stunning debut LP Weightless, Archipelago demonstrated why they are considered amongst the best that the north has to offer. The dynamic and textural peaks and troughs throughout their performance served to guide every audience member through a deeply personal experience only attainable in one single, fleeting moment. The audience plays a very active and engaged role in their performances, with the musicians guiding, manipulating and feeding off the energy in the room.
When a performance evokes such a strong emotional response from an audience, it’s hard to deny that what was just witnessed was something special: two acts at the absolute top of their game. This was a perfect example of when musicianship and artistic direction is implemented and executed flawlessly.