CD review: Ma

The Last
(Loop Records Loop 1014)

This quartet is made up of leader and saxophonist Tom Challenger, drummer Dave Smith, organist Ross Stanley and electronic manipulator Matt Calvert. While the band and Challenger’s writing shares that rock/trance/industrial trend that many young British bands are finding attractive, it doesn’t really sound like those other bands.

Partly it’s the overall sound. While Challenger is making a characteristic tenor saxophone sound and Smith is playing regular kit drums, Stanley’s organ takes on a myriad of sounds, most of them adding some distortion, very few of them sounding remotely like Jimmy Smith, for example.

But the most crucial participant here is Calvert, who provides some deeply dubby bass lines but also envelops the whole thing in a large and dark, echoey soundscape. This is jazz made in a gigantic metal-bashing factory of the future, with searing cauldrons of molten lava at the centre and all kinds of dark industrial arts being practised around it.

There are 12 tracks, and they do have distinct textures and moods but they don’t really have specific melodies or obvious chord progressions, or even particularly consistent rhythms. I found it best to listen to the album as a whole, with each section segueing neatly into the next. Nevertheless, Track 6, Shake, remains a real stand-out, perhaps for its lighter touch, for the sinuous saxophone line and for Smith’s great groove. Track 9 has a Wayne Shorter feel to the saxophone and a Miles-at-his-darkest atmosphere to the electronics.

There are clearly loads of non-jazz influences being brought to bear here – whether from rock bands like Burial and improv outfits like Supersilent, or from once avant-garde composers like Varese and Stockhausen. Challenger and Ma synthesise them into a strong and specific identity. That, and the range and richness of the textures/atmospheres/grooves they create, makes Ma, for me, the most interesting band working in this field, and supplanting Trio VD in that spot.



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