One Single Draftby Roger Young, images by Jonx Pillemer / 13.09.2010
Outside, on the Speedway balcony, there is guy in a golf shirt on his phone trying to convince some girl to come over and join him for “the jazz”. He’s having a tough time, “No, not old person’s jazz, funky jazz”. We scoff at him. His description obviously fails to convince because for the rest of the evening while Dave Ledbetter and The Clearing play, he sits off to the side nursing one single draft.
Speedway looks a bit like it’s been taken over by someone with Italian family restaurant ambitions; checkered tables crowd the already small space. Thankfully though the biker and petrolhead paraphernalia that adorn the walls will forever prevent the venue from ever being described as intimate. Jazz enthusiasts crowd the tables down front, Bellville bikers share youtube clips loudly in the back, a manic photographer keeps surreptitiously snapping pictures of the ear of a girl in front of us.
The Clearing’s first set starts all smooth and gentle and mostly stays that way; with Ledbetter on guitar leading the ensemble through his compositions; strong and guiding. It becomes apparent that Ledbetter is a bit of a hippy not only from his hair braid but also from his introduction of “Space”, saying that it’s about time he spent in a teepee. A slam poet stands up and interjects some random-ish words. The set meanders on, primarily dominated by Kesivan Naidoo on drums and Shane Cooper on the upright bass. Ledbetter, like some medieval mystic, trances out while he plays, staring into some imagined distance. It’s like floating down a wide lazy river in dappled afternoon sunlight. Occasionally Naidoo plays on the offbeat as if he’s trying to introduce some rapids. Lee Thompson, mostly on trumpet and Andrew Lilley on keys fill semi-background roles. It’s like a slow session of lovemaking, one where you fall asleep before you orgasm. “Waltz for a Friend” is a microcosm of the set; a beautiful through line played deftly, tightly and flawlessly but somehow lacking vitality.
After a leisurely break, it becomes apparent that the first set was an illusion, an initiation, a trick to weed out the short attention spanned. That, and they were waiting for Buddy Wells to join them on Sax. Naidoo’s elbows begin to flap, he gets cheeky eyes, Cooper brings out his fretless acoustic bass for “Song For A Moonchild”. The solo’s start to get wilder, more intense, Thompson’s flugelhorn flutters and snakes, and as Wells starts filling spaces with his Sax, Ledbetter starts to retreat, coaxing strange distant sound out of his pedals, muted electricity pylons over wheat fields. Little Wink gets up tempo and brass heavy, the slam poet stands up and interjects words; doing the stereotypical intellectual slam hands twitch but he’s not slamming, he’s breathing out the syllables; the whole affair melding together in unexpected ways. The jazz crowd down front is starting to let loose with sheeshes and yeahs. By the time we get to “Gone But Not Forgotten” the improv has got way intense. Lilley busts out a deep groove keys solo that sounds like someone spiked the church organist’s tea with speed and mushrooms. Wells spins sweet pain with fast and gentle attacks. In the purposeful wavering of the valleys between improvisations there is, however, a curious deadness; almost as if the musicians get so lost that they struggle to find their way back. All the while Ledbetter has his back to the audience, his head bobbing in the wake of the solos, the sounds of the creaking underbelly of space ships coming from his guitar, a high almost inaudible distortion.
For “Pelusa”, Cooper plucks his way through a solo so fast that the result is like slow thumping electronic bass from a passing car; Thompson and Wells hide in the doorway while Naidoo jumps down a rabbit hole of time signature exploration, fractalising the pace, dragging us in and like the slow climb before the rollercoaster drops, we only realize that extra ordinary shit has gone down when he lets us go. It ends in a wild speedfreakheadfuckout cacophony of horns and keys. It is at this point that I know that, just like the golf shirt guy outside, I will be unable to describe this adequately.
Dave Ledbetter and The Clearing play Speedway every Wednesday
*All images © Jonx Pillemer.