Eastern Promise 2018

Eastern Promise 2018 – Platform – Glasgow 16 – 17

Platform is an arts centre based in Easterhouse, in Glasgow’s East end, which has earned an enviable reputation for having one of the most progressive music programs of any venue in the city. Every year they hold a festival, Eastern Promise, which presents a varied bill of performance, art and music, which this year was boosted by two legends of Afrocentric jazz – Hailu Mergia and Idria Ackamoor and the Pyramids.

Place is of prime importance to Platform, since it also functions as a community centre, and notions of home and belonging were intriguingly explored in Xavier de Sousa’s performance piece Post. Our Portuguese exile host (now a resident of Brighton) invites us into a space where he asks the audience about what home means to them, while discussing his Portuguese identity and treating us to some Portuguese hospitality, with some great soup and shots of insanely strong spirit – I’d say he was a great host, who successfully made us feel at home.

A sense of place is also central to the work of Hailu Mergia, another exile, this time an Ethiopian in the US. One of the great keyboard players of Ethiopian jazz, Mergia want AWOL in the States in the 80s to escape his homeland’s military dictatorship. After decades of obscurity, his work was rediscovered by Brian Shimkowitz, who rerleeased it on his Awesome Tapes From Africa label to acclaim.

Mergia absolutely slayed Platform last time he played it, with a set of his classic material. This time, he and a trio made of drums and bass showcased material form his new album Lalu Belu, and it feels like he’s picked up the baton from thirty years ago without missing a beat. Reimagining Ethiopian jazz from a different vantage point, his Jimmy Smith-style rolling organ riffs mutate into African pentatonic scales, as he effortlessly alternates between a Rhodes piano and a synth (not to mention his trusty accordion at points – there’s a virtuosic ease at play here which is thrilling to watch. And the new material easily segues into such classics as Shemonmuanaye – this is truly timeless music, and Mergia is clearly having the time of his life in his second career, as are the audience, who demand about three encores.

Glasgow-based Michael Kasparis has built up the best Scottish underground music label with night School Records, but makes deeply strange music off his own back under the guise of Apostille. Normally one man and his drum machines, like both members of Suicide wrapped into one person, he’s joined here by a bass player, but the audience know to stand well back from the stage, as he has a tendency to escape it and harangue the audience. While Kasparis does a tireless job promoting other people’s music, he isn’t always the best promoter of his own, going off on a self-deprecatory rant before launching into a crazed version of Fly with the Dolphin, amping up the absurdist aspects of the song. He has the audience on his side by the throbbing electro pop of Feel Bad, if not the soundman, who he apologises to before cranking up the volume for his dark showpiece Good Man. As always happens with Kasparis, the barrier between crowd and performer has long been broken, and he ends up wandering amongst them, asking where he’s from, how he got here, and if there was a cheaper route.

Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids also like breaking barriers between audience and performers, announcing they’re on by snaking through the audience with African percussion and leading them, Pied Piper-like, into the auditorium. They could almost be Hailu Mergia in reverse, Ackamoor being an American jazz musician who, fascinated by the music’s African roots, spent time there studying and working with African musicians. If something of an obscure figure for decades, his music has become more central as Afrofuturism has hit the mainstream. and Ackamoor – leading a sextet in a spangly suit – is in full creative swing.

Title track of the new album An Angel Fell gives full rein to his incredibly soulful alto sax playing, and the interplay with Sandra Poindexter’s violin. If some moments are full on seventies style jazz funk with maximum dirty bass riffs and sax skronk, others are looking towards the skies to the spiritual jazz of Sun Ra, as the title of Land of Ra might hint at.

Ackamoor takes time out to talk about the state of the world, noting the pointlessness of boundaries and conflict when We Be All Africans, their signature tune which has the audience going ballistic. When Ackamoor finally takes off his shades, to note that the audience aren’t going to let them go home, they conclude on an encore of Rhapsody in Berlin.

Berlin may be more feted than Easterhouse, but no one in that room that night would have wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

Brian Beadie

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