Live review: Stephen Grew, Fritz Welch, Dougal Marwick and Jer Reid (4 stars)

Improvisers Grew, Welch, Marwick and Reid perform solo and as a quartet

Live review: Stephen Grew, Fritz Welch, Dougal Marwick and Jer Reid

Fritz Welch / credit: Noma

Four exceptional improvisers convene in the sunny Southside, reinforcing the Glad Café’s status as a hub for questing music. First, Marwick (synths) and Reid (guitar) conjure an understated set that evokes burbling swampland, bouncing objects, redundant, creaking machinery and materials under stress. Edinburgh-based Marwick brings nerve-jangling static, sucking quicksand and lump-in-throat rushes of luminescent fuzz, while Reid holds back on his customary jagged riffs, instead coaxing ominous resonances from the manipulation of tuning pegs and feedback.

Drummer Fritz Welch, for his part, is flying unexpectedly solo, as his scheduled collaborator, bassist George Lyle, is indisposed. His idiosyncratic performances often find him confined to a willfully minimal setup – perhaps a single snare and a few bits of percussive paraphernalia – but tonight he’s playing a full, traditional and disarmingly glittery drum kit. An agitated, visceral and extremely fluid set follows, blazing through a vigorous genre-crash of math-metal, jazz and the wilder fringes of free improvisation. Welch is a unique and reliably compelling player, one for whom gesture seems almost as important as sound.

For his part, visiting pianist Stephen Grew hurls unrelenting, high-speed Conlon Nancarrow-style runs, his breathlessly impressive freneticism hinting at a sombre melody concealed somewhere deep within the army-of-crabs attack. Halfway through, he suspends flyers attached to parcel tape between his upright’s hammers and strings, creating an ad hoc prepared piano. This makes for an unusual but confrontationally flappy effect, as if a delirious percussionist accompanied him on a single broken tambourine. As a bonus finale, the four players come together as an impromptu quartet. As six-eighths of the ensemble Eight Thumbs, Welch, Reid and Marwick are familiar with improvising together, so Grew is tonight’s wild card. However, over four distinct movements – moody swells, awkward fidgeting, abrasive physicality and abstract stillness, respectively – he slots in seamlessly, rounding off a remarkably well-focused, instinctive and mutually responsive unit.

Stephen Grew

Imaginative pianist.


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