Mimika is a rare beast. An 18-piece jazz big band. Even rarer, a big band playing original progressive music and songs with Balkan roots. They’ve set themselves quite a target. I’m not sure who’s going to book them for a local jazz club show as the economics of it mean that for sure last night’s gig at the Courtyard Theatre London was played for love not money. But they deserve to be booked by festivals across Europe, and maybe their new show “Divinities of the Earth and The Waters“, despite or maybe because of its esoteric sounding title, will help them get some interest. Because what Mimika are doing is really unique, really cool. And yes it’s a beast.
The band is led by young Croatian saxophonist Mak Murtic who composes the music and directed the show slightly off centre stage, sometimes leaving the musicians to do their stuff, sometimes turning to involve the audience or taking a sip from his pint. Although the jam-packed stage of the tiny venue was a visual treat, it’s the music that stands out. As this was the first full outing of this show, there were elements that clearly could polish up a bit. But the youthful energy was palpable, and the compositions hang together, so that the audience know a tale is being spun, even if the words of the two theatrical female singers who sometimes wailed, sometimes went all ederlezi lyrical, are not understood.
The work leans toward the dark side, but with those assymetric Balkan rhythms, wall of brass from the huge wind section, two percussionists, and at one point a stand up rock guitar solo, the show is utterly engaging and appealing even to those who are not obvious jazzers. It is important to recognise the work as that of a substantial composer and band-leader, whose future output will be well-worth following. The ghosts of Stravinsky and Bartok seem to hang around in the shadows alongside Bregovic, for want of a better-known Balkan music reference and someone who has also put bravura into Balkan. It reminds strongly of the curious 1960s liturgical work Hear O Israel which involved Herbie Hancock. It exudes a 60s creative vibe. Though the subtle electronics that came to the fore to glue the work together between pieces and sometimes to live mix some of the instrument located us firmly in the present, as did the European mood.
The concert was opened by Thodoris Ziarkas from Rhodes playing solo on double bass with reverb and lyra fiddle in a great contrasting combination. After the show he admitted that it was his first solo gig. That was not apparent. The brilliant sound mix meant we felt every vibration of his strings. He held the audience captive with a reflective, possibly angry, mood. More please.
The concert followed 2 evenings after the seismic Brexit referendum. Greek and Croatian artists have made their creative home in London. If they and we are lucky, they get to stay, and the public might even fund their art from UK taxpayers’ money. But terrible to think of the creative people we will not now have coming to the UK and the missed oppportunities. Let’s hope that this kind of artistic encounter is not even more of a rare beast in a couple of years’ time.
The concert was organised by Dash Arts.
The performers in this concert were
Maja Rivić – vocals
Laima Ivule – vocals
Andrew Linham – clarinet
John Macnaughton – alto saxophone, clarinet
Rob Cope – soprano saxophone, flute, alto saxophone
Greg Barker – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Daniel Woodfield – tenor saxophone
Sebastian Silas – baritone saxophone
Yazz Ahmed – trumpet
Magnus Pickering – trumpet
Owen Dawson – trombone
Hannah Dilkes – trombone
Benjamin Kelly – sousaphone
Leon Røsten – keyboards, piano, el. guitar
Jamie Benzies – el. bass
Tom Atherton – percussion
Harry Pope – pecussion
Tile Gichigi Lipere – live electronics
Thodoris Ziarkas – greek lyra
Mak Murtić – MD, composer, lyricist