Kings Place, London
By Sam Pryce
It’s not often that we see a cello outside of its traditional orchestral habitat. For instance, the instrument has not been snapped up by jazz quartets or contemporary bands as avidly as its relatives: the violin and the double bass. But as part of Kings Place’s Cello Unwrapped series, this cabaret-style performance gave an insight into the broader musical potential of the cello, ending a whole day of workshops and events called Beyond Cello II. Its diverse programme of artists and performers proved that the cello can hold its own in the contexts of jazz, pop and even comedy.
The evening began in the domain of freeform jazz. Hannah Marshall, an inventive musician well-established on the free jazz circuit, took us on an improvisational journey, transporting the cello into a realm of spontaneity and experimentation. Similarly, the duo BirdWorld (consisting of Gregor Riddell on cello and Adam Teixeira on percussion) played with the instrument’s rhythmic abilities in a captivating performance combining jazz, classical and electronica.
The cello-bration (sorry) continued with Ivan Hussey, a cellist who has spent much of his career in pop music, working with the likes of Soul II Soul and Duran Duran. Here, though, he presented us with a new style of cello-playing that he calls Arpezzato – combining the words ‘arpeggio’ and ‘pizzicato’. Playing the cello with both hands, much like a guitar, Hussey used finger techniques passed down from jazz and blues – ‘slide’, ‘hammer-on’, ‘pop’ and ‘slap’. Elsewhere, Shirley Smart, with guitarist Peter Michaels, used the cello to evoke European landscapes, performing pieces with flavours of French swing and gypsy jazz.
The highlight of the evening, though, was Kate Shortt, possibly the only comedian on the planet who can make even a cello giggle. Though a talented impressionist herself, Shortt was able to extract a mind-boggling array of noises and impersonations from her cello, mimicking everything from bagpipes to a Brummie accent. Parodying Classic FM and ‘weird modern music’ along the way, Shortt’s short-and-sweet set was a delightfully funny end to a rich and varied show.