Get there early, I’d been told – you won’t want to miss the beginning. And it was an impressive start, too, as the 10-piece band filed on in darkness to acappella folk singing. There was a moment’s pause and then, simultaneously, they kicked into a brisk, funky beat and switched on individual lights on their heads. As the music shifted the beams swivelled and flashed in unison, sometimes converging on a soloist in a sequence of highly theatrical tableaux. It added a clever dimension to the musical flow and captivated the audience as they gathered closer.
In keeping with the Circadian theme there followed a night-time piece, beginning with an elaborate Hang solo from Manu Delago. Tipping the domed instrument on its side he somehow extracted resonant bass notes as well as clipped percussion and the more usual gentle melodic sound. This range of sound was a revelation for anyone slightly jaded by the Hang’s overuse as a pretty novelty and explained why Manu is widely considered the virtuoso of the thing. He would later deploy three Hangs to permit fully chromatic playing, another liberation from the usual limitations.
That opening piece led to The Silent Flight of the Owl, a gentle piece featuring clarinet, bass clarinet and glass marimba behind the plangent Hang. Again onstage light effects were used to pick out players, notably Manu clattering across the handpan drums. By now the music had established a studied classicism, like a more serious Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and the accordion moved on into Uranus with it’s gentle cadences and quiet insistence.
The sheer range of sound available between the multi-instrumentalists on stage gave the capacity for endless shifts of tone and texture, and the meticulous writing and arrangements took full account of this. It was a rare joy, for instance, to hear two bass clarinets duetting on Almost 30, its deliberately slipping beats eventually settling into a ‘eurotrash’ house groove that swelled and burst. A later -unnamed – number pitted dirty bass trombone against the more simpering tone of the hang, while a circular breathing clarinet played against atmospheric Middle Eastern strings.
The final flourish of the evening was a complete showcase, beginning with an elegant Hang solo that led to a deceptively somnolent chorale. Suddenly things kicked in with drum and bass delivering broken beats behind a raw baritone sax solo in the style of Too Many Zooz. The crowd were gripped, then teased by a number of false endings, before it was really over and the band filed off briskly through the Fiddlers audience.
There’s no easy way to label music like this – clearly the result of a highly informed blend of jazz, rock and contemporary classical ideas that simply celebrates the sound of sound as much as anything else. Coming to the end of a tour, the performances (both individual and collective) were meticulous and flawless, and the queue for vinyl at the merch stand said it all, really.