The Project Space offers a much more raw and earthly performance experience compared to the main hub of Café Oto; warmth and atmosphere is swapped out for more of a “white canvas” effect, plotting the music against a primitive combination of fresh timber and cascading sand bags. All seats point to the front. There’s no back-and-forth to the bar or soft echo of pretty chairs scraping against the hard floor – not even a PA to boost the volume or reshape the instrument tones – and while I’ll always enjoy the beer and social setup of the main hub, I’m quick to warm to the new venue’s stark aesthetical contrast.
Rachel Musson’s solo set for tenor saxophone makes fantastic use of such a setting. The outside air filters in ever so slightly, and she breathes in the draft of Dalston traffic noise and car alarms (or cicadas – it’s difficult to tell) and spews out clumps of rust on the exhale, knocking into every creaking button on the way down; her instrument stalls and gasps stubbornly, stifling her voice into staccato pops that feel reminiscent of a cold car engine refusing to start. There’s a fantastic moment shortly after she crams a metal tin down the saxophone bell, during which she emits a discomforting shrill wheeze – I can hear the vibrations buzzing against the saxophone lip as they squeeze between metal and open air, and it’s through events like these that Musson devises a fantastic grapple between intent and the clunky mishaps of its realisation – erroring mechanisms, broken machinery.
In contrast to her unwieldy stop-start, the trio of Guillaume Viltard (double bass), Audrey Lauro (alto sax) and Mark Sanders (drums) develop a formidable momentum from the off. Muffled beater thwacks feel akin to rocks tumbling down mossy hillsides, while double bass fidgets in and out of a saxophone that hisses like a viper, seething and antagonistic. Movement is constant – each action beckons in the next as an inevitability, and despite being riddled with streaks of friction (drumstick butts screaming against sticky cymbals, double bass strings rattling against the body), the music trundles onward as a rusty, loose-wheeled wagon that seems both effortless and imminently prone to collapse. There are a couple of queasy interims that feel like a giant pirate ship tilting over the waves, with prolonged hums rising and dipping between eachother, and each time the band seem to become snappy and aggressive upon regaining balance; all barks and percussive slaps, lashing out at their instruments – and eachother – with newly-sharpened reflexes.