Esmerine @ St George’s Church, Brighton 06.12.13

Canadian chamber pop group combine Middle Eastern drones, jazz and ambient to intoxicating effect live

Dec 6th, 2013 at St Georges Church, Brighton / By Norman Miller
Esmerine @ St George’s Church, Brighton 06.12.13 Brighton's St George's Church boasts a gorgeous, sparse interior whose laidback vibe couldn't feel less 'churchy'. And with a giant glittering icon of Jesus gazing down approvingly, Esmerine produced my Gig Of The Year with a wave of transcendent music that managed at various points to effortlessly tick boxes marked ambient classical, cool jazz and Middle Eastern jig.

This year's excellent Dalmak album saw Esmerine's core duo of cellist Beckie Foon (Thee Silver Mt Zion, Set Fires To Flames) and former Godspeed You! Black Emperor percussionist Bruce Cawdron develop the world-music inflections of 2011's La Lechuza with feisty Turkish rhythms triggered by a spell of months in Istanbul. And it's a formula that works even better in an intimate live setting.

Multi-instrumentalism reigns as Becks 'n' Bruce cosy up on stage with Hakan Vreskala, James Hakan Dedeoğlu, Jamie Thompson and Brian Sanderson, combining cello, double-bass, reed instruments and various drums (both Western and Eastern) with marimba and xylophone plus Turkish stringed things we don't recognise but like a lot.

Unlike most gigs there's no filler as the band sweep through Dalmak with dips back into the back catalogue from the Aurora album. Most numbers switch seamlessly through different modes – slow-bowed melancholy strings shifting to whirling dervish Eastern clatter then back to reflectiveness. Echoes of Steve Reich or Rosy Parlane bounce off Middle Eastern drones and rhythms.

As you listen, there's a feeling of opposites working in beautiful tension – control/abandon, light/dark. And there's a sense of complete control. Long pieces – plenty are over 10 minutes – pull you through the gears to tight perfect conclusions without even a hint of sonic wastage. Clea Minaker's live lightbox projections of slowly-swirling psychedelic bubbles add a sense of being immersed inside a colourful hookah. It's a nice feeling.