Tripping (rather literally) up onto the stage, followed more sedately by the pianist Riley, Ian Clarke, flute player and composer of the programme we have come to hear, immediately creates a warm and relaxed ambience with the audience on this wet, chill Tuesday night in Camden.
Clarke’s first album Within was released in 2005 with compositions spanning back to 1994, and his new album Deep Blue, for which tonight is the official release concert, covers compositions from 2006-2012. His first two choices of piece are ‘Spiral Lament’ (2003) – inspiration apparently coming from a friend’s pet snails and death – and ‘The Mad Hatter’ (1994). Both are drawn from Within and Clarke’s compositional growth in those nine years is nowhere more clear. ‘Spiral Lament’ with its beautiful spiralled chromatic passages intertwined with the melancholy of the snail’s slow life and subsequent death almost ranges into a tone poem. But instead of motifs Clarke chooses to push the emotion through pitch bends and other techniques whilst retaining a rather sorrowful breathy tone throughout. In comparison ‘The Mad Hatter’ seems dull and lifeless, a tea-party that everyone wants to end.
Leaping forward another 6 years to the eponymous track from the new album, we see the more radical flute techniques that appeared in ‘Spiral Lament’ developed even further with a richer variety of tonality, emotion and range. Clarke has recently increased his film composition output with another composer, Simon Painter, and in this performance of ‘Deep Blue the sound definitely leans towards the cinematic.
Later Carey leaves the stage to Clarke, who explains he is going to play a few solo pieces. It’s an interesting strategy, more often employed at rock concerts for the leads to play through their ‘slow songs’. Rather ironically then the ‘pace’ picks up with a beautiful rendition of ‘Beverley’ from the new album. Whistle tones and tongue pizzicato keep this lively without drawing away from the liquid beauty of the main melody line. You find yourself hoping the piano player gets lost on the way back and solo flute can reign for the rest of the evening.
Following ‘Beverley’, Clarke reverts back to Within and the first big shock of the night. ‘Zoom Tube’, surprisingly written back in 1999, is where we get really ‘modern’ with a whole host of extended flute techniques including residual tones, singing while playing, multiphonics and even a few rather loud jet whistles! Vaguely reminiscent of Berio and some parts Reich, there are murmurs all over the audience of “cool” and “wow”.
Disappointingly after this the piano returns and Clarke also returns to his earlier more tonal pieces. The two encore pieces, ‘The Great Train Race’ and ‘Sunbeams’ appropriately show the glints of light that Clarke is capable of, and how really pioneering his albums could be. The music like the venue hums with potential, it just needs that little bit more ‘Zoom’ please Mr Clarke!