A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith, Wigmore Hall, 6 January 2017

A little knowledge/research can be a dangerous thing, when exploring a field in which you lack expertise. I realise that, in our post-truth, post-expert society, that statement is controversial, but here is a cautionary tale to prove my point.

Many months ago, when I read in the Wigmore Hall brochure that Vijay Iyer was to be the next artist to hold the Jazz residency at the venue, I read his mini CV in the brochure and Googled him. I thought; “looks diverse and interesting; let’s book his first Wigmore Hall concert and see if we like it”.

What I didn’t do was look more closely at the spec. for that first concert and think about whether that particular concert would be to our taste.

Roll the clock forward until lunchtime on the day of the concert itself. I had just finished playing real tennis, having been taught a lesson by one of the better players that my modest improvement in the last few months – click here – was, at best, modest.

I called Janie, wondering why she hadn’t even read the Whatsapp message I sent her about this evening’s arrangements. She was clearly in a stressy mood. “I’m so frustrated with my morning. I can’t get hold of anybody. I have wasted so much time. I’m starting to really stress about getting to the flat on time for the concert this evening…”

There was no point prolonging such a call.

By the time Janie was sufficiently unstressy to call me back to try and finalise the arrangements, I was all stressy because, as I said to her, “I need to wrap up warm and leave the house in five minutes to get to the doctors’ surgery on time for my jabs”.

“You’re not having jabs,” said Janie, “you are having one jab. Jab, singular. No-one but no-one makes as much fuss about having one jab as you do.”

Well, actually, that’s not what the new practice Nurse, Liz, said to me a few minutes later.

I apologised to Nurse Liz on arrival for being a big baby and she said, “just don’t look at me”, then distracted me momentarily while she did the job. “That was easy enough”, said Liz.

I explained to Liz that my mother had an anecdote about me, which she used to tell all-too regularly. When I was very small, on one occasion the doctor and my parents had to chase me around the house ahead of one of my jabs, only for one of my parents (probably mum) to pin me down under the dining room table, allowing the doctor to get down on her hands and knees to vaccinate me right there.

“The NHS was a truly community, personalised service back then, eh?” I said. Nurse Liz laughed and said that she’s had to chase a fair few people around her surgery room in her time too.

In the end Janie got to the flat in good time and I had almost calmed down from the ordeal of my jabs…sorry, I mean jab.

We got to the Wigmore Hall in good time. Despite the stresses of the day, neither of us wanted a glass of wine before the concert – we both had juice. Surely the music would be our de-stressing therapy.

We sat in our seats, where an enormous, beaten-up looking electronic keyboard instrument/speaker was blocking our view of the Wigmore Hall’s exquisite Steinway. Janie tackled a poor unsuspecting young steward on this point, only to be rebutted.

Then Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith emerged. Vijay switched on his electronic instrument, which made a loud hum which reminded me of my father’s old Grundig TK35 reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I loved dearly (the machine, not the hum). I always attributed that hum to the thermionic valves within the machine.

Grundig TK35, ram-packed with thermionic valves. Photograph by Michael Keller, from Rad-io.de.

But I digress.

Then the so-called music started. Not least the screechy sounds produced by Wadada Leo Smith on his trumpet.

You see, the bit I hadn’t researched properly before choosing the concert was the other half of the pairing for this gig. Had I done so, I’d have learned that:

Wadada Leo Smith is an American trumpeter and composer, working primarily in the fields of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation…

Janie and I have had previous experience of the free jazz movement – click here if you want a good laugh – Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring Anthony Braxton, supported by Polar Bear, Royal Festival Hall, 8 July 2007.

I guess the pairing of Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith is not entirely “free jazz”, more like BOGOF – “buy one get one free” jazz.

Anyway, that noise was not going to calm us down and make us feel relaxed for the weekend.

Worse – unlike our experience at the Festival Hall nearly 10 years ago, tonight’s concert was primarily a one piece wonder (80 minutes or so) and we were sitting front row central, so the type of early escape we had managed from the Festival Hall in 2007 was out of the question without being rude and disturbing to other punters.

Neither of us were in the best of moods when we left after two encores and some unintelligible speechifying, which put a proverbial cherry on top of our concert experience.

We consoled ourselves with some delicious Persian food from Mohsen and some more soothing music back home as we ate.

I broke it gently to Janie that there were tube strikes planned for Monday, so we would need carefully to plan our trip to the lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall that day.

“Who are we seeing Monday lunchtime?”, asked Janie.

“A solo recital,” I said, “I believe it is the trumpeter from this evening.”

“YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN”, hollered Janie.

That was a poor choice of joke for that moment. Actually we’re seeing a harpsichord recital, which should be lovely.

We know a lot more about early music; we didn’t need research or third party expertise to choose that one.

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