Cafe Oto’s sandbagged Project Space hosted this premiere of Alex Ward’s ‘Glass Shelves and Floor’, performed by his newly formed quintet featuring Olie Brice (dbl bass), Tom Jackson (clarinet and bass clarinet), Hannah Marshall (cello), Rachel Musson (tenor sax); Ward conducted and played clarinet. The piece aimed to combine notated and semi-notated direction with passages of freely improvised material. It was entirely successful; the passages of improv seamlessly flowing from and contrasting with the complexity of the composed sections.
The music was full of reflection, stillness and subtle activity; it required patient, close listening, and rewarded engagement with a wide variety of sound. At times the whole ensemble were joined in a clotted mass, generating pointed percussive dots, Ward and Jackson winding wisps of soft tones around scraping strings and Musson’s sharp blurts. Each player took a solo, Marshall’s in particular worthy of mention: she bowed a captivating shrill chatter from her cello before sweeping up the neck to play an intricate tangle of notes. The improv sections of the performance were very effective; in one, Ward conducted Bryce and Musson in a section of sudden stops and dense scrabbling detail. The non-composed periods allowed for moments of surprise and chance amid the more rigid notated passages.
‘Glass Shelves and Floor’ displays yet another side to Ward’s already prodigiously varied and excellent output; it’s 45 minutes disappeared rapidly, such was my immersion in it; the end arriving with a relatively fiery crescendo. The brilliant group convened to perform this material played with a mixture of raw expression and spiralling complexity.