Billed as ‘An Evening With Get The Blessing’ this fundraiser for next year’s Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival nicely managed to combine the formality of a sit-down concert with the mosh pit atmosphere of a stand-up gig. It’s a paradox about the band that they fit both equally well courtesy of the rock-referencing grit of their riffs and rhythms and the smart originality of their structures and melodies. It’s reflected in their proper dark suits and tie-less white shirts, like office boys letting rip, and in a capacity Arnolfini audience that ranged from veteran jazz aficionados to eager young hipsters. After 15 years it would seem the city still gets Get The Blessing.
But first the special guests … Modulus III are a new outfit, launched in March at a LeftBank gig that got solid word of mouth support that suggested they too should get got, in due course. Like The Necks or The Bays their manifesto is to make it all up on the spot, using drums, cellos and a whole heap of electronic instruments between three players. They started tentatively under minimalist black and white projections with drummer Matt Brown’s loping backbeat riding under Drew Morgan’s Eastern-sounding cello part, Dan Moore waiting over his keyboards before finally interrupting with a crescendo of electric piano and a freer, faster mood developed. It was clearly a group strategy, this, to disrupt as well as to combine, and it produced fine moments as when Matt played with a simple snare drum phrase for a while and the other two provided a responsive electronic atmosphere around it or when Dan’s sepulchral MOOG riff subsided into gentleness only for crashing percussion to erupt with prog fervour. Their shorter second piece was a fine soundtrack matched to the fractured and enigmatic visuals behind them until a grudging drum’n’synth pulse allowed a ripple of Terry Riley arpeggios to resolve an ending. As is the way with improvisatory projects it felt as though they’d reached a great place to start from just as they finished, but all the more reason to catch them whenever they next appear.
No great mystery about the main act, of course, other than what tunes they would pick to play from their four album catalogue, and the eager crowd’s response suggested that the set list really wouldn’t matter. So, playing as ever in the gloom beneath John Minton’s stylishly distracting video projections, the band proceeded to make a flawless job of being themselves (and looked as though they enjoyed every minute of it). Switching between electric guitar and bass guitar Jim Barr’s insistence and tone defined each number from the jerk of Einstein Action Figure to the trawl of Phaenomena. It’s a necessary solidity that permitted Clive Deamer to do what he does so well, delivering hard hitting drums that somehow always shift the expectations of quite rigorous beats without loss of precision.
On each tune trumpeter Pete Judge jousted with Jake McMurchie’s sax, both using effect pedals to morph tone and build ambience, providing the jazziest moments as they manoeuvred the structures of Monkfish and Conch. Time has built an easy rapport between these two players and the way the music slips between them seamlessly is one of the band’s great pleasures. Nobody got a cheer for a solo here – it was all too integrated for that. Above all, the music had real energy and freshness – even the older tracks like the crowdpleasing OCDC which got the loyal audience participating throughout. It’s clever stuff that needs no interpretation but simply takes you into itself no questions asked.
As a harbinger of next March’s festival this gig boded very well, with a good crowd clearly getting their money’s worth from the cream of Bristol’s musical originality. We’re a city that knows what’s what, after all, and on the whole we will come out to celebrate it.