The second in a two-part roundup of Babel Label album releases. For reviews of albums from Ingrid Laubrock and Catatumbo, Mark Hanslip + Javier Carmona, Dialogues Trio with Julian Siegel, and Oltremare Quartet, see part 1.
Transmissions of Not*
Gannets are an improv offshoot of keyboardist and “amateur ornithologist” Fyfe Dangerfield’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated indie band Guillemots, although the Gannets album, recorded in 2008 for BBC Radio 3, takes its is name from an earlier group led by Gannets drummer Steve Noble, which also featured Dangerfield and another Guillemot and future Gannet, Chris Cundy. In the first incarnation of Guillemots, Cundy’s clarinet was paired with that of Alex ward. They’ve carried that relationship over to Gannets, but in another trio, Weavels, with Mick Beck on bassoon, Ward plays guitar. Clear so far?
The most recent Gannet, Dominic Lash, replaced original double bassist John Edwards. Although Steve Noble is still more closely associated with Edwards, it’s his rapport with Lash that knits this eclectic group together. On “The Moment of Truth”, for instance, the bassist lays down a highly distinctive groove-grind that locks the rhythm down even as Noble’s percussive switchbacks conduct the reeds in freewheeling flocking patterns.
Ward has said that: “Gannets posit an alternative jazz history in which 30’s swing developed straight into a combined form of the free jazz and fusion movements, without any of the intervening decades,” and certainly “The Big No” takes the album out in fine frenetic style, with a few rhythm-charged twists and turns culminating in a Kansas City jazz-flavored free-for-all. But opening track “Walking the Gannet” channels the frenetic celebratory energy of Klezmer until it breaks down and Dangerfield generates sounds that evoke something like those lovable knitted aliens the Clangers jamming on Sun Ra.
Matthew Bourne couldn’t travel much further than this from the pastoral acoustic pianism of Montauk Variations. Here he plays Fender Rhodes, Moog and Korg synthesizer alongside electric guitarist Chris Sharkey and drummer Chris Bussey of punk-jazz outfit Trio-VD, Minghe Morte’s electric bassist Colin Sutton, and vocalist Andrew Plummer of World Sanguine Report.
The group’s blueprint is traced firmly from John Zorn’s for early Naked City, though the musicians here haven’t sublimated their distinctive personalities to Zorn’s compositional strategies quite like Prolapse once did, and neither are they either so explicitly genre-referential or rigorously drilled as the Naked ones. And that’s a good thing. It’s in the breathing spaces, where the music eases back and opens up just a little that the group becomes fully individuated.
And everyone here is on blistering form. Bussey and Sutton are ferociously locked-in with Sharkey, while Plummer manages to pitch an original vocal style somewhere between the in-extremis yelps of Eye and racked black metal invocations. But it is Bourne’s progtastic electric keyboard playing that really lifts the album, and sets it a par with the works it steals a lead from.
At six tracks in just under 24 minutes, the playback time makes this more an EP than an album, but the short running time is just about right for music so condensed.
Glockenspiel is guitarist Adrian Dollemore and drummer Steve d’Enton. The duo have apparently collaborated in the past with Bilbao Syndrome’s Matthew Bourne and heavyweight saxophonist Tony Bevan, but here they go it alone in their own short (35 minute) set of more-or-less hypnotic post-rock.
The ambience of the opening track, “Larven” suggests that the duo is unlikely to rock out, ticking along as it does on a gently swelling harmonic sheen of electricity, à la Labradford. But then the title track does get a bit messier, in a loose deconstruction of the My Bloody Valentine aesthetic. It’s probably worth noting that two of the album’s titles—the closing “Tramadol” and “Fentanyl”—are both named for analgesics. “Tramadol” is actually the most original piece on the album, a lovely blend of shimmering guitar harmonics and controlled feedback over swaying, narcoleptic kit drums.
It’s no surprise to find that Glockenspiel have supported Stars of the Lid. Like the Texas drone rockers, Glockenspiel’s music is more structured than the efforts of most of the current crop of effects-laden sound-wash guitar wranglers, and refreshingly not shy of a motorik drum beat, as on “Belleville”. Dupleix is, despite its low-key nature and the frankly terrible name the duo have saddled themselves with, a subtle and rather beautiful album of compelling power.
A deceptively straightforward proposition for jazz fans after the eclecticism of the last three albums reviewed, the clean contours of Indigo Kid’s debut disguise the recording’s opalescent depths.
Although the presence of tenor saxophonist Iain Ballamy, ex-Loose Tubes and Food, is bound to attract most attention, Indigo Kid is led by a remarkable guitarist, Dan Messore, who wrote all of the songs here excepting his take on the Gershwins’ “The Man I Love”. Completing the quartet is bassist Tim Harries, who played alongside Ballamy in Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, and Messore’s long-term associate, drummer Gethin Jones.
With Ballamy as fluently mellifluous, eloquent and sensitively attuned to group dynamics as ever, it’s nevertheless the guitarist’s stylistically variegated playing that most often snags the ear. To quote from the spot-on press notes: “Messore might draw from the sensitive side of post-contemporary fusion where Pat Metheny meets Kurt Rosenwinkel. But Indigo Kid is also filled with the rich folk-rock traditions of a John Fahey and the recently departed Bert Jansch … (and) hints of Bill Frisell’s Americana.”
Where a track like “First Light” or “Ode to Gilly” has a sprightly up-tempo bounce, other tracks shade into darker, sometimes solemn moods, as on the lovely “Pages to a Friend”, and it’s the contrast between the dual lead instrument’s timbres that makes this album special. A particular highlight for me is the atypical solo fragment “Mr Leppard”, in which Messore evokes Jimmy Page’s deep-Wales psych-folk take on Bert Jansch, circa Led Zep III.
Those titles marked with an asterisk* are available either as download-only, or as limited-edition vinyl + glass-mastered CD + digital editions; the others are available as either standard CD or digital releases. Albums can be bought, and individual tracks streamed, shared and/or downloaded, direct from http://babel-label.bandcamp.com