Bill Bruford and Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks

Purcell Room (Queen Elizabeth Hall), 14 Jul 97
Buy One by Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks feat. Bill Bruford
Monday, 14th July 1997, 19:30-21:20; £10 (in advance)
Set list: rating/5
"Elevens" (Bruford) ***
"Groove Oddity" (Lockett/Bruford) ****
"Self Portrait" (Max Roach) ****
"Infra Red" (Limbrick) **
"Prism" (Pierre Favre) ****
- interval -
"Travel Light" (Lockett) *****
"The Crooked Path" (Lockett/Bruford/Limbrick) *****
"Debris" (Limbrick) ****
"Network" (Lockett) ****
"Full On" (Lockett/Kalsi) ****
Encore ****

Bill Bruford: drums, electronic drums
Pete Lockett: varied percussion, voice ("The Crooked Path" and Encore)
Simon Limbrick: vibes, mallet percussion, shekere etc. (all except "Elevens")
Nana Tsiboe: Ghanaian drums (all except "Elevens", "Groove Oddity" and "The Crooked Path")
Johnny Kalsi: dhol (all except "Elevens", "Groove Oddity", "Prism" and "Network"), plastic bag ("Infra Red")
The Dhol Foundation: dhols ("Full On")

except "Debris": Limbrick (cardboard box), Lockett (large tin can), Bruford (medium tin can), Kalsi (plastic box), Tsiboe (two small fizzy drink cans)
and "Travel Light": Limbrick, Bruford, Kalsi (all xylophone), Lockett (xylophone and varied percussion), Tsiboe (xylophone and Ghanaian drums)

As part of the South Bank Centre's Rhythm Sticks festival, Pete Lockett returned to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, teaming up with Bill Bruford to launch their percussionists' Network. The percussion quintet played new and old pieces on everything from tin cans to tablas, dhols to electronic drums.

The Purcell Room was full to meet them, with a mixed audience from stereotypical, thirtysomething King Crimson fans in their faded band T-shirts to the broader age range of the RFH's usual contemporary classical crowd. The event had received some publicity in the broadsheet newspapers, with a lengthy article on Lockett in one. Lockett and the other Network members appeared in other events later in the festival as well, but the big draw was surely Bill Bruford, in a gap in King Crimson's schedule.

The first half of the evening was somewhat disappointing. Lockett and Bruford began the evening with Bruford's "Elevens", a piece of synchronised drumming of much technical dexterity, but a boring warm up musically. It was in a similar vein to the Bruford/Mastelotto/Belew drumming pieces on King Crimson's THRaKaTTaK tour, but devoid of the spectacle. The next band member, Simon Limbrick, joined Lockett and Bruford for "Groove Oddity", but the evening only really got going when Nana Tsiboe and Johnny Kalsi completed the line up for the group's version of Roach's "Self Portrait". All five remained for most of the rest of the evening, with Tsiboe or Kalsi missing out occasional later pieces.

"Groove Oddity" had seemed rather mechanical in its composition, demonstrating instruments and players in turn, but it trundled along pleasantly enough. "Self Portrait" followed the same pattern, yet, for some reason, it worked so much better with the band sounding relaxed through the fast playing. Their adaptation of Favre's "Prism" worked equally well.

Unfortunately, between "Groove Oddity" and "Prism" came a piece full of nice atmospheres, yet which remained unsatisfying. "Infra Red" failed to seem to develop, good textures from Lockett and Kalsi (on plastic bag!) notwithstanding. Elsewhen, however, its composer, Limbrick, proved to be a great player, underpinning the others with minimalist but effective work on the shekere or other hand held percussion or taking a lead with some ferociously fast mallet playing.

Limbrick's minimalism was something from which Lockett could have learnt. He had an occasionally annoying tendency to bang or shake seemingly random exotic instruments when he had nothing else to do. That minor criticism aside however, Lockett shone. His kit from all over the world was played with proficiency, whichever instrument he used. As an example of such skill over a wide range, he began "The Crooked Path" with a solo on a kanjira, or I think that is what his one head, one bell, one-handed tambourine-like instrument is called. As an instrument, it does not sound as if it has much potential, yet Lockett brought forth a wonderful performance from it, before the rest of the band joined in the piece.

While Lockett took the lead much of the time, be it on tabla, cowbells or whatever, Bruford (but also Tsiboe and Kalsi) often played as the rhythm section. In what was very textual music, Bruford seemed over-reliant on the traditional drum kit—snares and cymbal to the fore—and to his electronic drums with their usual programming. When he soloed in "Groove Oddity" and "Prism", Bruford compared badly to Lockett's and Tsiboe's work respectively in the same pieces. It became apparent that he hadn't had a great amount of time to rehearse with the others. Thus, we saw Bruford using sheet music quite a lot through the evening and his role in the music could be quite small.

After a patchy first set, the band really found their stride after the interval. "Travel Light" began and ended with all five players on the same xylophone, with Tsiboe and Lockett peeling off to add rhythms to the complex xylophone lines. The rest of the evening continued on a high tone, with complex polyrhythms, inventive use of different percussion instruments and strong playing all round. This was what the Network of Sparks, if not the whole Festival, was about!

As a break from the furious pieces that filled the second half came "Debris", "[a] rhythmic creation on ‘found' objects", namely plastic boxes and tin cans! Despite the performers' joke looks of horror as they were handed their unconventional 'instruments', "Debris" was presumably preplanned with Bruford reading from sheet music while playing a tin can with his fingers. Again, Limbrick's composing seemed more interested in sounds than structure, but the piece proved its point that most anything could be a worthy percussion instrument.

Bruford's work also picked up for the second half of the evening, with his fine electronic work we know from Earthworks coming through especially on "Network". With Limbrick's mallet work as well, the piece provided a contrast to those before and after which concentrated on acoustic drum sounds. But it was back to straightforward drumming for the finish with "Full On", a most apt title. They warned those of us sitting in the front row and loud it was with the other two members of the Dhol Foundation joining Kalsi at the front of the stage for a dramatic end to the evening. A great climax, if—like many climaxes!— without the subtlety of the pieces before; this was almost a "who can play the loudest?" competition dressed up as musical composition. A rousing encore continued in the same style, but with just the one dhol player in Kalsi again. More musical, Tsiboe and Limbrick traded lead parts against an onslaught from the others.

The programme talked of "[i]nterchanges and junctions crossing pathways, opportunities of interaction" as the fuel for the Network of Sparks. If the music only sometimes fulfilled some goal of mixing diverse percussion styles and instruments, it did not really matter for we had a great evening nonetheless. While the two bassists and the two guitarists in the current King Crimson incarnation have found interesting ways of working together, I have been rather disappointed with the Bruford/Mastelotto pairing. Perhaps Bruford's networking tonight will give them a fresh impetus.

The band returned to the South Bank in November 1999 for another great show as part of a short tour in support of their album One, and kicking off the London Jazz Festival (something that amused Bruford given they are hardly a jazz group, as did a preview in Time Out which claimed he had played in Kiss!). They played a similar set, but concentrated more on Lockett or the Lockett/Bruford duo, as does the album.

Henry Potts, 10 Aug 97; revised 20 Nov 99

Originally posted to, and What's Rattlin'.

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