Melt Yourself Down
One Friday night last month I was slumped before a TV in a state of ennui and through a dim haze I became aware of an apparently crazed man jumping up and down, throwing himself across the stage. Bellowing incomprehensibly to a stunned crowd, he was accompanied by what sounded like duelling punk funk jazz saxophones and a bunch of black-clad musicians playing a kind of mutant psychedelic Arabic tribal funk, apparently unable to stand still for a second. They were having a ball! What was this…? My formerly relaxed eyelids shot upwards; and my eyes were riveted to the screen for the first sighting of Melt Yourself Down performing We are Enough on Jools Holland’s Later.
Subsequently, I realised I must have witnessed baritone and tenor saxophonist Pete Wareham’s (of Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear) exciting new project, which features frontman and vocalist Kushal Gaya, (Zun Zun Egui), and on this recording, tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (Heliocentrics, Sons of Kemet), drummer Tom Skinner (Hello Skinny, Mulatu Astatke and Sons of Kemet), bassist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland, Rokia Traoré), percussionist Satin Singh (Transglobal Underground, Fela! The Musical) and Leafcutter John (who previously was part of Polar Bear and also produced the recording) on electronics.
The band apparently took their name from an eighties record by the NY no-wave punk jazz outfit James Chance and the Contortions. I can try to sum up MYD’s frenetic sound as north African-infused punk jazz with hints of Can and a hefty dose of Wareham’s former genre-defying band, Acoustic Ladyland, but this doesn’t come near to evoking the high-powered, insanely funky, exotic sound they arrive at. Wareham was inspired by the “Godfather” of Nubian music, Ali Hassan Kuban, who fused traditional Arabic music with jazz, and this north African influence is the cohesive thread running through all the tracks. It sounds like Mauritius-born Kushal Gaya is singing in tongues, although apparently there’s some French, Creole and even English in the mix. This is boisterous stuff, probably best enjoyed on your feet.
Stand-out tunes include the vital, catchy, afro horn-driven Fix My Life, the squally effects-laden Release!, which is underpinned by the rock-solid rhythm section, and the aforementioned insanely danceable, mesmerising We are Enough. The less frenetic Camel and Tuna feature Kushal Gaya’s wailing Arabic vocal laments and, unexpectedly, I was reminded of The Stooges on Kingdom of Kush and the vocals of John Lydon on Mouth to Mouth. There is even the odd more mellow moment, most notably on the cool, reflective, percussive Freewalk. For vinyl junkies out there, like me, the album can also be had on vinyl LP for a limited period.
The energy this unique band generates really needs to be experienced live and I’ll be first in the queue next time they play near me. Why not join me and blow away those jazz cobwebs!
Categories: CD review