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Under The Surface at Sudbury Arts Centre (UK), 21 June 2024


The Suffolk market town of Sudbury witnessed an event on Friday the like of which had not been seen in the town's long history.

 

In the magnificently restored Arts Centre (formerly St Peter's Church) the Dutch improvising trio Under The Surface presented a multi-media event of extraordinary power and beauty. Their music is inspired by folk, jazz, classical music and the musical traditions of the many countries they have performed in around the world.

 

The trio - Joost Lijbaart (percussion), Bram Stadhouders (guitar & electronics), Sanne Rambags (voice, harmonium, waterphone) - formed 9 years ago and since then have been performing improvised concerts at venues and festivals all over the world, but Friday's event in Sudbury was a little different.

 

During the last 3 years, their visits to the UK and Ireland have been documented by photographer/artist Mark Wilkinson and film makers David Lam & Hannah Thompson (On Studios Ltd) and this event marked the UK launch of both Wilkinson's book and Lam & Thompson’s short documentary on the band. Both the film and book are beautifully presented and give a deep insight into the trio's approach to their creative efforts and their musical relationships.

 

The performance opened with the documentary, which was beautifully shot on the River Stour, on the Essex / Suffolk border and in the west of Ireland, during which the trio discussed their motivations, inspiration and how they relate to each other musically. All shot in atmospheric soft focus, the film is a fitting tribute to a wonderfully creative ensemble.

 

As the film drew to a close, Lijbaart and Stadhouders took to the stage, creating an ambient wash of sound with shimmering guitar & electronics and rings and light touches from Lijbaart’s bewildering array of percussion collected on his global travels. They were soon joined by Rambags whose lilting voice and wordless improvisation added to the soundscapes being created, ebbing and flowing, holding the audience mesmerised. 

 

As the music increased in intensity, the trio were joined by Belgian Nathan Wouters on arco double bass, the drone of his instrument giving a further dimension and depth to the performance which gradually built to a crescendo before subsiding and bringing the first half of the evening to a close.

 

The trio’s eponymous first album was recorded live in the studio, whilst their second CD Trinity, recorded in 2018 comprises live improvisations from a number of venues around Europe. In a departure from their normal improvisation, for their 2022 third album – Miin Triuwa – they delved into the musical traditions that inspired their music and created a selection of pre-composed pieces with music by Stadhouders and lyrics in Oud Nederlandse (Old Dutch) by Ramgbags, and it was this that was presented in the second half of the evening.

 

Joined again by Wouters’ bass and also by Annabel Laura on vocals, acoustic guitar and percussion, the trio performed the album in its entirety, with several improvised passages, the music ranging from quiet, almost ambient passages with delicate percussion and almost whispered vocals, to surging, guitar heavy washes of sound with Rambags’ effortless voice soaring into the high rafters of the beautifully restored former house of worship. The standing ovation at the end of the performance was no less than the music deserved.

 

Since first seeing Under The Surface in 2018, almost everyone I have spoken to who attended their performances said that they had never seen or heard anything like it, and Friday night was no exception. This was improvising and musicianship of the highest calibre and, as always, pure brilliance.

 

Under The Surface will be returning to the UK for more gigs in October and again in 2025. If you can, do try and make it to one of their performances. I promise you won’t regret it.

 

Joost Lijbaart – drums, percussion

Bram Stadhouders – guitar, charango , electronics

Sanne Rambags – voice, harmonium, waterphone

with

Nathan Wouters – double bass

Annabel Laura – voice, acoustic guitar, percussion


The Under The Surface book can be pre-ordered here


Videos:


An edited version of this review has been published on




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