Billing their series of gigs as
If the series of Playtime gigs is as eclectic, playful, challenging - and fun - as this then it deserves to be heralded as a major Fringe run.
This night was billed as featuring pianist Dave Milligan, alongside Playtime instigators, sax and clarinet player, Martin Kershaw and ‘the incomparable’ Graeme Stephen on guitar. (Kershaw's introduction of Stephen was answered by Tom Bancroft, the drummer, quipping "He's not incomparable - he's quite like my dog!")
Such banter is in keeping with the appropriately playful nature of these gigs, which will all feature varying line-ups (most - but not all - including the core team of Stephen and/or Kershaw and Bancroft on drums). Although the music is intense and what might be considered "challenging", there is a lightness of touch and a whimsicality, keeping po-facedness well at bay. It's always entertaining to watch Bancroft as he fiddles with his kit, inverting cymbals on his toms and mashing them in with a beater, for example, creating interestingly warped gong-like tones, even as he still plays the kit (rattling his stick between the hi-hat cymbals etc as he does so, like a Scottish Han Bennink). However, this is no comedy act: the music is skilfully and dexterously performed, and the intricate arrangements summon up disparate influences. As an example, Bancroft's Anthem Sketch evokes Jan Garbarek's stateliness and ECM-style poise, yet Stephen scythes through it with a distorted solo, as if Sonny Sharrock is jamming with Garbareck. It all gels wonderfully well!
Kershaw's lyrical playing (not least his warm-toned clarinet work) and Milligan's textural tonal colourations permeated the night and there was a further, very welcome guest, Beccy Owen. She sang Marbles in Their Pockets, another Bancroft composition, reminding me a little of Julie Covington's '70s-era icy precision. Great tone and a very cool ascending chromatic run showed Owen’s skill and made me want to check out the play the song comes from ("Land of Glass", at Summerhall, during this Fringe).
In all, an excellent evening of top-rank musicianship, enjoyable compositions, inventive arrangements (no "play the head, then jam" Jazz gig, this!). If the series of Playtime gigs is as eclectic, playful, challenging - and fun - as this then it deserves to be heralded as a major Fringe run.