Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Battle of Ideas, Barbican, EC2, 20-21 October

The Battle of Ideas is a weekend of lectures, panel discussions and “conversations” on a wide range of subjects touching on morality, politics, art, science, gender and popular culture (to name a few). Claire Fox, director at the Institute of Ideas, states that the festival’s raison d’être is “to make virtues of free-thinking and dissent” and that its slogan is “FREE SPEECH ALLOWED”, urging attendees to hold their nerve, as no doubt “sensibilities will be offended”. The weekend kicks off first thing on Saturday morning with the question “What’s wrong with equality?” ending at 7:30pm the following evening with a panel discussing “No future: has pop lost its radical edge?” The line-up is too diverse to cover here and the speakers billed make for something of a battalion of potential In Our Time contributors, but you if you’re interested, click here for a full timetable of events.


Grizzly Bear, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Sunday 21

Jazz-camp graduates Grizzly Bear bring their egalitarian experimental pop music to the beautiful Butterworth Hall at Warwick Arts Centre this weekend, in celebration of their superb new album Shields. The former Mercury-nominated Brooklyn outfit have produced a fourth album Pitchfork refer to as their “most compositionally adventurous record”, a collection of “unvarnished shipwreck spirituals” that form an “excavation of loneliness, melancholy, and self-reliance”. The rest of the week is just as aurally adventurous, featuring the best in pop experimentation with Field Music, Efterkland (Danish rock trio performing with the Sage’s Northern Sinfonia) and singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading.


The Thick of It Inquiry, BBC2/HD, 9:45pm

Mr Tickell is dead. All are culpable and Lord Leve-, I mean Goolding, wants answers. The opposition, everyone at DoSAC and the civil service are to be grilled one at a time during this one-hour special, the penultimate episode in the fourth series of The Thick of It. The listings report “Lord Goolding is reputedly a fair man, but he is not going to stand for any nonsense and neither is his team of expert inquisitors, so surely now the truth will come out. Unless someone lies, or creates a diversion of some kind, or simply pretends not to remember anything. Which they obviously would never do.”


Everyday Encounters, William Morris Gallery, E17, 13 October – 3 February

This exhibition in Walthamstow’s newly refurbished William Morris Gallery pivots on Morris’s oft-quoted proclamation: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Members of the Society of Designer Craftsmen have been invited to create and display new work in response to Morris’s rallying call, exploring the possibilities for materials, decoration, narrative and the role of craft in contemporary life. The majority of the work is available for sale and entry to the exhibition is free.


Beasts of the Southern Wild, cinemas nationwide, out today

Already this film has received an indecent amount of hype. Winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes, the film has picked up awards and accolades like dead flies on a windshield, all of which will be splattered across billboards nationwide this weekend. It is the first film from director Behn Zeitlin, an adaptation of a one-act play calling upon the devastation of low-lying Louisiana to tell the story of Hushpuppy (played by Quevenzhané Wallis, only six years old when the film was shot) and her father Wink, who find their position increasingly desolate as the waters rise and Wink’s health begins to fail. “The Bathtub”, the bayou in which they live, is apocalyptic and mystical, and home to aurochs: boar-like ancestors unfrozen and released on the wilds by rising global temperatures. Tim Robey at the Telegraph produced this nifty little paragraph about the film’s protagonist: “Hush puppy is no holy innocent but a fizzy little sprite with a face like a clenched fist, facing everything that comes her way – principally the Katrina-like storm that threatens to obliterate her world – with the pugnacious instincts of a born survivor. She gets a voice-over, which applied the deliberately inarticulate lyricism of Terrence Malick to the Toni Morrison-like mantras recurring inside her head, whipping up fresh poetry from this cocktail of influences.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quevenzhané Wallis at Cannes. Photo: Getty Images.
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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State