Listening And Sounding collective captivate at Café OTO residency

Kevin Le Gendre
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A high flying Polish improvising collective – and special guest Cleveland Watkiss – gathered for some sonic, and cultural, border crossing

Listening And Sounding collective at Cafe OTO - Photos by Dawid Laskowski
Listening And Sounding collective at Cafe OTO - Photos by Dawid Laskowski

For well over a decade Polish trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz has been making fascinating music, and under the umbrella of Listening And Sounding (L.A.S) he has also curated a wide range of activities, from running a label to programming festivals. The organization’s three-day residence in London stays true to that spirit of adventure. It starts with sessions on the Millwall Cutting, a charming Docklands vessel that is an unfamiliar arts venue and finishes at Café OTO in Dalston, which is. If the journey from riverside to high street is stimulating for the visiting musicians then the afternoon session at the celebrated east London venue is about bigger cultural border crossing. It is an international affair that brings together Damasiewicz, his compatriots, saxophonist Krzysztof Kasprzyk, guitarist Grzegorz Lesiak and pianist Barbara Drazkov (who is based in Brussels) and British vocal legend Cleveland Watkiss and B.

There are two sets of trios and then a final gathering of all four players, and the changing configurations make for intriguing listening. Watkiss is the common thread, stood centre stage, deploying the full range of not so much technique as imagination and absorption of traditions far and wide, be it Jamaican dee-jaying, African-American scat, Indian classicism and European opera, all the while sculpting and reshaping his tone at will, making it an electronic as well as human-made sound to enhance the beats he also makes on the fly. Though his tenor and soprano playing are effective Kaspryk creates fabulously eerie digital hisses and hums to complement the singer, while Lesiak is a more discreet actor, yet no less integral to the performance. His crisp, curt single note lines are a gentle rhythmic anchor that energizes the largely contemplative nature of the first set but things change decisively on the second when Damasiewicz brings blustery fanfares and short but potent solos to the mix, his melodic, slightly folkish intent vaguely in a Don Cherry mould, while Brazkov’s prepared piano enhances the music’s sultry, fall-of-night ambience.

Drazkov (pictured above) initially plays very little, focusing on a low register that is fattened into a submerged droney bass that blends smarty into the heavier, throatier lines unfurled by Watkiss, now almost a mischievous Pavarotti inna Kingston, before a quite startling transformation takes place when she eases into a double time, it not treble time repeating riff in the middle register that has all the rapier character of marimbas or clave sticks. When all four musicians gather for the final session there is a sense that they have found common ground, and the groove implications of the earlier sets are developed a touch when Watkiss triggers a ragga-ish backbeat from his pedal board or Damasiewicz, on his keyboard as well as on trumpet, infuses the mildest dub flavour through tense, long held minor chords that he thins and stretches as Kasprzyk’s finely articulated soprano pierces through the delicious spookiness. Improvised music in Poland, a country that has been a longstanding patron of international groundbreakers such as Anthony Braxton, has a history of openness and experimentation, and this L.A.S residence, a voyage of discovery for many, is a welcome reminder of as much.

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