LIVE REVIEW: Archipelago @ The Black Swan (30.5.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Alan Thoburn

This writer prefers to flatter (or indeed delude) himself as to being an open-minded listener – whatever one of those is, exactly – so being at The Black Swan to catch two superb and inventive groups would fit in with the modus operandi pretty neatly. That said, I readily confess to being far more familiar with rock or electronic circuits than the jazz one, so it’s still startling and more than a little confusing to enter such an almost excessively polite atmosphere.

It’s especially confusing when it’s the setting for two performances as fervently, demandingly alive as these. Going on first are Ripshaw Catfish, the duo of Cath Roberts on baritone saxophone and Anton Hunter on guitar. As it must be, this is a performance of equals rather than a leader/supporter scenario, but across the four pieces they play tonight, the most striking moments arrive when Hunter layers and loops his guitars runs into inscrutable, brilliant webs of chaos for Roberts to rise above, finding surprising and unexpected ways to pierce through the fog into bright melody. They, alongside the audience, have to work for it, but the payoff is undoubtedly there.

Celebrating the launch of their debut album Weightless, Archipelago begin tonight in a contemplative mood, the trio using an assortment of hand percussion to settle the listener in before coming out all guns blazing. When they launch into tracks like Red Giant and the wonderfully titled More Bamboo, Less Pandas, it’s with a glorious crunching force: while never at the risk of losing any nuance, it’s a joy to hear Faye MacCalman (tenor saxophone/clarinet) and Christian Alderson (drums/percussion) go full throttle, daring each other on, while John Pope launches into his own one-man mission to make his bass guitar sound like absolutely anything except a bass guitar. Concluding with an encore that finds Ripshaw Catfish joining them, tonight marks a fine calling card from a band with plenty more in the tank.

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