Graham Fitkin has an endearing habit of announcing a piece of music’s duration along with its title. In cases like the two minute-long soprano saxophone elegy Jim & Pam & Pam & Jim, this can seem like a kindly dentist reassuring a patient that the treatment won’t hurt a bit while the introduction of Bait, at ten minutes a comparative marathon, suggested a pilot warning of imminent but not flight-long turbulence.
Neither pain nor mid-air collywobbles resulted, though. Fitkin’s music, especially for the nine-piece ensemble he presented here, is habitually gripping, often building simple motifs and call and response lines into a robust, exacting musical mechanism. These interlocking parts follow in the minimalist tradition of Terry Riley and in their development can call to mind prog rock groups such as Egg and King Crimson.
Fitkin, however, has his own signature sound, helped by his use of instruments including bass clarinet, the bray harp, with its sitar-like buzz, and the berimbau, the one-string musical bow that its greatest exponent, Brazilian sorcerer Nana Vasconcelos always refers to as his Steinway. Fitkin’s idea of a Steinway is more conventional and his romping keyboard boogaloo drove the opening piece, Totti, with magnificent momentum, introducing staccato brass and lever harp lines that converged with tuned percussion, bass and guitar to mesmerising effect.
If Danse Real and Estampe combined haunting horn chorales with bray harp to create a decidedly medieval courtly elegance, the urgent Vamp brought us right back up to date on a wave of what appeared to be percussion instruments purloined from the kitchen and made the promised five minutes seem like no time at all.