LIVE REVIEW: Archipelago, Kollega, Late Girl @ The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle (04.12.19) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Alan Thoburn

As accomplished and creative an outfit as the North East currently harbours, the past couple of months have seen Archipelago spread their wings, transporting their virtuoso sounds to jazz lovers across the nation. It’s a jaunt that’s brought them everywhere from Glasgow to the Jurassic Coast, and as such this headliner – their first in the region for 12 months – has the air not only of a triumphant homecoming, but also of a crescendo to another prolific year.

The self-promoted show also offers an exciting supporting cast, kicked off by the astral notes of local artist Late Girl. A firm favourite in experimental circles, her glitchy melange of voice loops, offbeat electronics and sparsely employed beats carries a confounding allure; coalescing disparate strands into a spliced yet deceptively melodic palette. There’s a subversive, irreverent streak to her performance too. Aqua samples are by now a given in Late Girl sets, but there’s still plenty of novelty to be served up – not least her parting thanks, which are here spun into a startling, surrealist lullaby.

Next up, it’s the turn of Lancaster’s electro-jazz outfit Kollega (that’s “koll-ee-ga”), returning the favour having shared a stage with Archipelago in their own hometown. Despite being a member down, the remaining three-piece waste little time establishing an infectious groove; channelled through a diverse, intriguing collage of synth sounds and a whopping bass pedal board. Coupled with an affable, ad hoc approach, their deft blend of electronic and live instrumentation offsets obvious technical issues, and come the end has plenty of us pining for a return visit.

With their tour nearing its end, the rest of the nation will presumably feel much the same way about Archipelago; and if tonight proves anything it’s just how fortunate we are to have them. Adding new music atop of choice cuts from 2017’s debut album Weightless and last year’s collaborative project Between Waves, it’s a set which displays just how far the trio – multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman, bassist John Pope and percussionist Christian Alderson – have progressed barely four years since their formation. In large part, this development owes to the group’s pitch perfect dynamic. All three are superlative musicians, yet the true magic lies in the nature of their craft, with MacCalman’s compositions offering both an essential framework and a canvas from which improvisational instincts are free to flourish. What’s more, it’s new songs such as Wake Up where this embrace of adventure is most prevalent, as fresh electronics weigh into an established reeds / bass / drum setup. Capped by an ecstatic crowd response, it’s perhaps the most compelling performance yet from a group now unmistakably mixing it among our region’s finest.

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