Apart from having the most definitive name for a free impro outfit, Anglo-Polish ensemble Shepherds of Cats are most notable for having a drummer. As it happens, he’s quite an unostenatious figure. He plays a maximum of one drum at a time, mostly doing no more than softly tapping the skin with his fingers, and isn’t placed particularly uppermost in the mix. As I listened I’m not sure I made an particular effort to tune in to him.
But then rudders aren’t very visible aboard ships, yet they fill an important role regarding the steering. He added a rhythmic element often absent in frenetic, plinky-plonky eclecticism of free impro. To which the cello player also sometimes contributed, striking the strings with his bow.
The music felt free yet rooted, never striking about for a direction. Even melodic elements passed through the set, as if they weren’t searching for such things but neither keen to dispel them. It was at points pyschedelic and in one long section even bluesy, as the cello player temproarily abandoned his bow for some gravelly scat drawl. They could fall back to a murmur, drums merely pulsing, challenging to the ears in a pub environment but worth the effort. The second set, less drum-anchored, perhaps didn’t quiet reach the heights of the first.
I can have something of a love/hate relationship with the free impro scene. I reckon it is theoretically possible to tire of trustafarians expressing themselves by banging a biscuit tin, then expecting acclaim for their efforts. Then at other times it takes me so into the moment I remember why I took to the thing in the first place.
Trying valiantly to express all this afterwards to anyone who would listen, someone replied “well, it’s not awkward like English impro”. And I suppose it wasn’t.
A cool film made to their music by VJ Pietruschka, who accompanied them on the night...