Bob Belden has just played his first gig in London since 1980 last night performing a special surround sound set before following up this return to the capital with a club date at the Vortex tomorrow night.
The flautist/saxophonist and record producer last appeared here with Woody Herman, just two years after Belden graduated from the University of North Texas.
In recent years Belden has been a hugely significant Miles Davis reissue producer, and his own records as a leader have pushed forward a consolidated reading of jazz noir, particularly his 2001 album Black Dahlia.
With Animation made up of Belden, opening up on flute before switching to saxophone later, along with the blindingly propulsive electric bassist Jacob Smith; winningly brittle trumpeter Peter Clagett; Nord keyboardist Roberto Verastegui channelling the Bitches Brew era; and the Zach Danziger-like drumming of Matt Young, he performed a special set in Ambisonic surround sound with live video projections at the Tabernacle in west London.
The project is a collaboration with sound architect Serafino Di Rosario who was also on stage last night crouched behind a MacBook.
Di Rosario explained in a short talk to the audience how the technology is like the grandson of Dolby 5.1, and demonstrated echo delays and volume flexibility with sounds unexpectedly “living” in the room in a more organic way, a sense of being there.
With the audience sitting in the centre surrounded by speakers the band played a wide range of Belden material, and also debuted songs from new album Transparent Heart for RareNoise.
The standout new song of the evening was ‘Occupy’, Belden’s tribute to the protest movement that sprang up in New York’s Zuccotti Park last September and fanned out all around the world.
With projected images that showed solarised marching bands and almost robotic city figures ‘fried’ in the psychedelic graphic effects, as well as Antony Gormley-like lonely figures on high rise buildings, the performance was also in a way a homage and wake-up call to Manhattan, “an island off the coast of America”, as Belden told the audience.
Earlier in his dressing room Belden spoke of his admiration for Blue Note producers such as Duke Pearson, and explained how Michael Cuscuna got him involved in working on detailed reissue projects in the first place.
Other projects have seen Belden make a video documentary more recently with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. With the Herbster Belden also arranged songs on Hancock’s innovative 1990s album A New Standard, an album way ahead of its time.
Belden’s new album was recorded in Bill Laswell’s studio in New Jersey. Plans are afoot to bring the Animation surround sound show back to London in the autumn as well as stage it in New York. Stephen Graham
Above: Mr B
For tickets to the Vortex show tomorrow, go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk