It was hugely enjoyable. Cargo is becoming quite a dab hand at events like these, blurring the lines between club and concert hall in a way that jazz, for example, has always managed effortlessly. It seems like a simple formula, but it surely can’t be otherwise everyone would have been doing it for years already, right?
New(ish) trends in contemporary composition help, no doubt – minimalism and its offshoots obviously work well in these contexts, since the music comfortably rides both amplification and background chatter. But not all the music here was from this mould, and as Juice’s repertoire attests they’re happy to reach far beyond the Downtown borders. A little Machaut would have sat very well I think. (I heard Scarlatti last time I was here, so why not?)
What actually helps more – and now that visuals, hip crowds and (horrors!) drinks are regularly spotted in London’s major concert halls, what is the only difference – is a bit of that old performer/audience interaction that remains rare, shy and even begrudging in the traditional concert hall. Juice – and particularly frontwoman for the night Kerry Andrew – are engaging performers, and look as though they care about both us and the music. This matters, and it’s the conduit through which adventurous music can be presented to audiences who fancy giving it a go; if we can’t see that the performers care, why should we?
The show was divided into three sets. By the end of the third, voices were flagging, but the singing was mostly flawless throughout, and particularly impressive in a central series of Meredith Monk solos and duets. Juice are the only professional ensemble to sing Monk outside of her own group; seeing her music interpreted through others’ voices only increased my admiration of both.
Other highlights were Juice’s own arrangement-cum-mashup of Björk’s ‘All is Full of Love’, ‘Human Behaviour’ and ‘Big Time Sensuality’, and Andrew’s three Sedna Stories. The second of these, featuring Matt Dibble on bass clarinet, was a sinuous multi-tracked thing, a sort of cross between New York Counterpoint and Bolero. A surprise quotation from The Simpsons theme tune raised a big laugh, but once it was out there, the solo line couldn’t escape it and lost its earlier focus. In retrospect it felt like a mistake, momentarily breaking the classical identity – that care and sincerity – that makes gigs like this what they are.