Graeme Thomson

Good noisy fun: black midi, at the Edinburgh International Festival, reviewed

Plus: nu jazz filtered through the sounds of London street life

This year we must love Edinburgh for her soul rather than her looks. The EIF should be commended for making the best of a tricky hand, but the lodgings for its music programme bring to mind a fallen society beauty forced from her New Town villa into a rented bedsit. Edinburgh Park is a cathedral-sized tent in a business park, wedged between the city bypass and a shopping mall. The wooden floor planks buck and roll like a galleon deck. There is a roof but no sides and the Covid-quelling ventilation is, shall we say, robust. So yes, forget the optics. In 2021, content is everything.

As it transpires, it proved a fitting spot in which to experience three artists engaged in similar quests to remould the traditional and familiar. Orcadian composer Erland Cooper was my first taste of live music since March last year — no pressure — and he provided a gentle reintroduction, one in which the interplay between past and present was helpfully semaphored. Upright piano, poetry recitations and a vintage reel-to-reel tape machine vied with video screen, loops and beats to create a languid blend of folk, contemporary classical and electronica.

Accompanied by four violin players, one of whom occasionally sang soprano, Cooper’s simple, elegiac piano melodies were buffeted by long, slow string movements and the sounds of the elements. The music was intended to evoke an overnight sea journey to the Northern Isles. The setting helped — Cooper acknowledged the ‘huge ferry of a tent’ we were all sharing — but the dance between tension and release didn’t always summon the necessary turbulence. At points this felt like music composed for a nature documentary, an aural backdrop for slow-motion images of gulls wheeling over remote sea-crags.

For a moment in the black midi gig I forgot how cold I was

Like Cooper, jazz drummer Moses Boyd is a natural cross-pollinator.

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