Szun Waves @ Broadcast, Glasgow, 11 Jun

The giddy spirit and playfulness between Luke Abbott, Laurence Pike and Jack Wyllie makes for an incredibly powerful set in Broadcast's cosy basement

Live Review by Stephen Butchard | 14 Jun 2019
  • Szun Waves

In Broadcast’s cosy basement, we’re all close enough to hear Luke Abbott clacking away on his keyboard before Szun Waves begin. It’s surprisingly fitting for jazz this cosmic in scope. The trio have long found their power within subtleties and intricacies, even when jamming through a seven-minute build. Drummer Laurence Pike begins by brushing his drumstick along the snare. You can hear the individual beads rattling around above a buzzsaw synth. Portico Quartet's Jack Wyllie breaths heavily through his soprano sax, wheezing out an opening note where the whoosh of air causes as many tingles as the squeal that it eventually leads to.

Pike carefully, gradually introduces drums, hitting the hi-hat with different parts of the stick to colour the room with different splashes of sound. This close, you can see the moment to moment decisions he makes: what tom to hit when, how long to let the crash ring on for, whether a rimshot will happen once or twice. Its beauty is more microcosmic than cosmic.

The skill of the band is abundantly clear. Their musical chemistry leads to a flowing improvised set that carries the audience through every new path they choose to take. The gorgeously warm electronics from Abbott are a perfect tonal base for the other members to riff over and under. Wyllie’s sax playing is full of heart, even at his most restrained. On those long soaring notes, he carefully moves between semitones like he’s coaxing a dangerous animal. Picture the scene in Jurassic World where Chris Pratt calms downs the velociraptors, but, y’know, with more saxophone.

Pike fluidly moves between pieces of his kit. At one point, he places a cymbal upside down on the snare, a shaker in one hand, the stick between his fingers. His other hand rests on the kit, applying pressure. For a good three minutes, he flits his attention between the snare – pushing, hitting, scratching; the cymbal – pinging, controlling; the shaker – shaking, obviously. All while sat in one tiny corner of the kit, when you could just be listening to the hi-hats having a great time. This restraint and dexterity means that when something like a kick is introduced, it feels gargantuan.

For all their keen awareness of silence and subtlety, the band play with loudness and danger just as well. Abbott feels as if he’s wrestling with his machines for a good portion of the set, allowing pieces of sound to decay and reverberate, constantly moving it on with new waves of sound. The drums and sax follow him. Pike plays his fills like he’s holding back the waves. The sax melds with the synthetic elements powerfully, adding a raw human element.

"That was a new one," Abbott says, wiping sweat from his head after a ten-minute piece. "Not that you’d know, because the old ones don’t sound anything like they do on the record." The three share a smirk. For all their talent, it’s that giddy spirit and playfulness that makes the set so powerful. It’s the spark of emotion that’s there in every toiled-over build.