Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Female Improvisers and a great venue

We went to the wonderful I’Klecktik last night to see an evening “Celebrating Women’s Contribution to Improvised Music”, as part of International Women’s Day. It is absurd to think that there should be an event or events celebrating the contribution of half of the world’s population, but there you have it.

There were five female improvisers and, for some reason, Neil Metcalf on that perhaps most ‘feminine’ of instruments, the flute, in the ensemble. Given that there was an audience of less than twenty, it is hard to come to any firm  conclusions about anything, but it was interesting that, by the end, almost all the remaining listeners were, in fact, male. But this was not a stridently radical feminist gig, merely another very good free improv gig. Which made me wonder generally about if there is any longer a need for events that sell themselves as female-centered? Clearly there is, but this was in essence an evening of challenging and fascinating improvised music. Whether the fact that the majority of participants were middle-aged women is a moot (and wonderful) point, as is whether there is such a thing as ‘feminine improv’ or some such entity. ‘Insect Improv’ is ‘Insect Improv’, whatever gender performs it. Or maybe not. What do I know? Really?

Free Improvisation, as my two books about free improvisation have suggested, was spawned by men, and largely played by men, until fairly recently. This situation has changed, with women gradually  joining the ‘movement’ and older improvisers now being acknowledged, finally.

Just like any old men’s firm, I’m afraid.

It was thus a joy to behold, the other night, the always-recognised Sylvia Hallett, alongside the less well-known Catherine Pruygers on oboe, Sue Lynch on saxophone and Sue Farrar on violin. The excellent bassist’s name I’m afraid I didn’t catch, for which many embarrassed apologies (she was great, needless to say). I don’t propose to describe the gig, beyond saying that it was first-class improvisation, of both the ‘laminar’ and the ‘pointillistic’ type, involving both freely- extemporised playing and that which involved reacting to projected graphic scores from Livia Garcia and Martin Harrison. Adrian Northover’s electronics are also well worthy of recommendation. Hallett’s solo bowed bicycle wheel feature was especially wonderful, as was her duo with the great bassist.

I was rather baffled by the poor attendance.  Did it’s advert seem a bit ‘separatist’ (it wasn’t in any way) or was the publicity a bit crap (it often is for gigs like this)? Or is this stuff still infra dig, as they used to say?

It certainly reminded us of what a GREAT gig I’Klecktik has become, especially now that the space has been opened up by the removal of the partition at the front, and with a new coat of paint. Marvelous acoustics as well, maybe as good as the much-venerated Little Theater Club, which this place is increasingly coming to resemble. So, all in all, another totally satisfactory experience from the venue that is probably now my favourite of improv spaces - less compressed than The Vortex and less up-itself than Oto.  ‘Music Without Bluster’ seems to sum up the music presented here - Eddie Prevost and John Butcher seem to love the place, which gives one an idea of what to expect (no Brotzmann here). More than that, the whole ‘vibe’ of Old Paradise Yard and environs is special, and full marks are due to those people who have created this oasis in William Blake’s back yard. Venues tend to ‘peak’, and I think that I’Klecktik has reached it. Go and see, but don’t expect to see queues outside. Which should be a clue in itself.

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