Bring Your Own
Reviewed by JJ Wheeler
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This certainly seems like advice adhered to on this latest quirky, riff-rock tinged, musical jumble-sale Led Bib release. The formula of spiky, two-horn lines backed by grooving, percussive rhythm section interplay over four or five chord cycles, followed by a chromatically rousing horn solo, crescendoing and winding its way into a familiar, although not always identical, thematically orientated finale seems well mastered by the torch-bearers for the Middlesex Jazz Course.
Unquestionably well produced, this album, whilst remaining musically gritty and explosive, has a clarity and depth in sound, which only adds to the music. Recorded in a residential studio in Wales, with Pop/Rock singer PJ Harvey at the helm of production, this album is certainly geared to appeal to a wider audience than simply the jazz aficionados and young musical “outsiders” who flock to jazz gigs to escape the dross of MTV.
This is festival music. Good-time, in-your-face, make you smile music. None more so than the opener Moth Dilemma, complete with the happiest riff I’ve ever heard. One can’t help but let the smile radiate across your face as these cheeky chappies spit, squeel and shriek through 50 minutes of high-octane, largely unadulterated gusto.
I must admit that, after the initial shine of stomach-warming glee from such whole-heartedly enthusiastic riff-making wore off, it took four or five more listens before the distinction between tunes arrived. From a distance, the overall shape of this record can feel quite two-dimensional (riff-rock and building, energetic soloing over minimal harmonic constraints), with the exception of Hollow Ponds, the shortest (and in my opinion, best) tune, soulful and melodic, with expert use of simplicity and two-horn writing from bandleader Mark Holub.
However, when you scratch the surface away, listening beyond the front-line bursts of aggression and raw energy, you hear counter-melodies and conversation between rhythm section members and soloists, although occasionally stepping on each other’s toes in attempts to enforce their statements into a busy, buzzing palette of ideas and crossed wires.
Again, with this type of music I have to question how much room for manouvre there is in improvisation? Undoubtedly, there are more “free” sections within the composition where (ideally) the music could go anywhere, but are the composed sections towards which they are heading so strong (maybe this isn’t criticism after all) that it almost prescribes the content of the improvisation? I guess that, in a similar way, one could argue that adhering to a form and set of changes on a standard is just as restrictive, if not more so, but then we see how people like Keith Jarrett and Miles’ second great quintet manage to extract the desired aspects of a composition, retaining it’s identity, yet taking it to a wholly different place.
Just some food for thought…
Categories: CD review