Music for A Summer’s Evening at Clare Hall, Cambridge

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Saturday 13 June 2015

David Gordon (piano), Evelyn Nallen (recorder), Malcolm Creese (double bass), Graham Instrall (percussion), Zero Gravity (recorders)

Anyone who has noodled around for a few minutes on a musical instrument will know that there is a tendency for notes to go somewhere else.

A note suggests another couple of notes, a chord suggests another chord – and sometimes a tune is born. Sometimes, however, the results are horrible, a labyrinthine sequence of non-sequiturs, of melodies refusing to develop, chords failing to take shape, and modulations that simply don’t turn up when they’re supposed to. Five minutes of innocent “improvisation” can lead to a five-star headache.

There are musicians, however, who do not have these problems – who can take a piece of music, play it to perfection, then turn it inside out and kick it to the moon and back.

It was this category of musicians who delivered Music for a Summer’s Evening at Clare Hall, Cambridge on 13 June 2015, performing a programme that evoked the salons of the Enlightenment one second and the speakeasies of the Great Depression the next, gavotting and charlstoning their way back and forth between the 18th century and the 20th with equal ease and celebrating in the process two great improvisation-driven art forms: Baroque music and jazz.

Music for a Summer’s Evening brought together Evelyn Nallen on recorder and David Gordon on piano, Evelyn supported by her recorder ensemble Zero Gravity and David by Malcolm Creese on double bass and Graham Instrall on percussion.

The eclecticism of the set was echoed by the staging of the performance, which featured a grand piano on the left and an assembly of bass recorders on the right, the former suggestive of drawing-rooms and the latter of drawing-boards.

In a packed and fast-paced programme, listeners were treated to a cascade of unexpected delights that ranged from Evelyn’s exquisite rendering of Mychael Danna’s The Sweet Hereafter in an arrangement by James Welland to David’s equally sensitive reading of Scriabin’s Mazurka Op. 25 no. 3, taking in Bach and Rameau along the way and cordially introducing them to George Gershwin, the Cuban singer-songwriter Osvaldo Farrés and the Argentine tango composers Horácio Salgan and Ástor Piazolla. Malcolm Creese and Graham Instrall provided magisterial interventions from the double bass and the drum kit respectively, and Zero Gravity flitted blithely across the centuries, handling Henry Purcell’s syncopation and Cole Porter’s swing with equal aplomb.

A wonderful summer’s evening indeed, and an inspiration to anyone who has ever wondered precisely what to do with that diminished sixth under the hand (if it actually was a diminished sixth in the first place and not something with an entirely different name …).


Jonathan Steffen

This review first appeared in The Recorder Magazine, Autumn 2015.

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