Some venues have a style that almost dictates the kind of music that belongs in them – the tiny intimacy of El Rincon, say, or the grandiose acoustic of St George’s. The stunning location and rough hewn antiquity of the newly restored Old Barn at Kelston makes it a perfect setting for elegant and intricate acoustic music, hence early bookings for Three Cane Whale, Spiro and the Spindle Ensemble. The Ensemble quartet is the latest project from Bristol’s Bloom Collective and they play original instrumental compositions that hover cinematically somewhere between classical, folk and jazz idioms.
The stage already set with Spindle’s vibraphone, marimba, harp and cello gave an added theatricality to Gris Sanderson’s opening solo set. She played the Nyckelharpa, a Swedish keyed violin with twelve additional resonating strings. Gris is probably the UK’s leading exponent of this esoteric instrument and her set ranged across Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish traditional tunes with tantalisingly few of her own contemporary compositions. The Scandinavian music was intricate and dazzling, her fingers rattling across the tiny keys with unfailing accuracy as the complexities of rhythm were masked by the flow of the tunes.
If Gris’ set left an echo of Scandinavian melancholy in the barn’s high rafters it was picked up in the quiet reflection of the Spindle Ensemble’s opening number, a gentle combination of repetitive phrasing and wandering melody that lay somewhere between African folk music and New York minimalism.
The band’s compositions often deployed lengthy harmonic sweeps from Caelia Lunniss on violin and Jo Silverston’s cello while Harriet Riley’s marimba and vibraphone bubbled and surged underneath. To begin with Dan Inzani added harp, moving throughout the set between that, accordion and piano, and it was interesting how those choices affected the feel of the music. There was an inevitable folksiness from the accordion, occasional jazz flavours from the piano and ethereal ambience from the harp. These shifts, in the context of the pieces’ episodic structures, gave a strong sense of filmic narratives as yet unseen.
It’s hard to think of a comparable project, certainly around this area, that can present as a classical quartet while using that language in its own terms. Their more established pieces like Osier and That Way I Don’t See had a Palm Court feel, albeit with post-modern cheekiness underneath, while newer tunes incorporated improvised parts for cello and vibraphone and even hinted at the wonky Ethiopique harmonies of Tezeta, another Bloom project involving Dan and Harriet. All of the music had a careful precision and its beautifully thought-out textures resonated perfectly in the Old Barn’s timeless space. There’s an album in process, apparently, and it will no doubt be the ideal soundtrack for lazy afternoons.