The bassless Anglo-French quartet Barbacana made strong impressions right from the start: James Allsop’s supple tenor sax led the way, as the others gradually joined in to create a compelling collective improvisation with tight melodic interludes.
This was the story of their set. A constantly shifting dynamic spectrum, ranging from full-volume, rowdy sax blasts and singeing electric guitar to near-silence and an organ that sounded like tootling computers, showed the players were really locked in together. Fresh from a couple of gigs on the other side of the English Channel, this was certainly a good time to catch the exciting new band.
Allsop and keysman Kit Downes were joined by Parisian duo Adrien Dennefeld (guitar) and Sylvain Darriffourcq (drums); all displayed an enjoyment equal to the audience as they attentively listened to each other, rising, falling and fidgeting as one. Perhaps tune structures did get a little predictable, but this did not detract from the pleasure of the moment.
Troyka, a talked-about London trio with a recent release on Edition Records, were next up. Downes was on keys again, joined this time by drummer Joshua Blackmore and guitarist Chris Montague.
They favour a jam band aesthetic – open, loosely structured, slightly wonky grooves have gained much attention. But something seemed to be missing on Friday night. It may have been that the new material Troyka were trying out is not yet fully absorbed; it just sounded a little flat after all the energy and flair of Barbacana.
Compositions seemed to meander, lacking the leadership role which Allsop’s pyrotechnic saxophone had played so effectively for the previous group. While Montague on guitar occasionally managed to unleash a pleasingly acidic Scofield vibe, these instances were all the more notable for their rarity.
With the crowd showing signs of disquiet, the trio sought to raise intensity levels. Only then did heads start to move. A lively, attractive potential is clearly there, but it felt like they had really got going a little too late in the day.