Led Bub have been remarkably consistent these past thirteen years, but Umbrella Weather, the quintet’s sixth studio album, is probably their finest so far.
They’ve cracked a nigh perfect balance between aggression and sophistication, with vigorous performances packed with dynamism. The group has maintained a stable lineup since 2005, with two jobbing producers in the ranks, and, although they don’t fight shy of a good skronk, they’re as well-honed as the best nu prog. The “punk jazz” label routinely thrown at them doesn’t really stick.
That rap comes from the edge a healthy injection of improvisation in pieces honed through studio jams; as Holub tells it: “mostly working in a typical jazz style of head-solos-head, but in almost every tune the solos are completely open.”
He cites as influences The Grateful Dead, Zappa and Beefheart as much as Coleman, Dolphy and Mingus, and all seem credible. Comparisons to John Zorn are also inevitable, but transcended: the jump-cut eclecticism of Naked City, check, minus the file card schizophrenia; the tight phrasing of Masada’s post-bop, ditto, minus (most of) the klezmer inflections.
Joey Baron drove both of those Zorn groups, and his taut skins sound echoes through Holub’s own exuberant drumming, as does Shannon Jackson’s hard fusion (cf. the intro to this album’s “On the Roundabout”, and throughout brooding highlight “The Boot”) and Tony Oxley’s painterly colour, stroke, and texture. Holub’s a complete player, and he lights a fire under every track.
Eager lead salvo “Lobster Terror” whips up fiery ecstatics, with twinned altoists Chris Williams and Pete Grogan sparing, trading and interweaving fluid chromium lines in ear-snaring compliment, but there’s an anthemic plateau ahead of the pile-driver conclusion. “Ceasefire” also switchbacks, from power-dirge into raunchy, discordant, expertly buffered motorik.
Liran Donin’s bass lines are full and often fuzzy, punched out through distorted amplification. Witness again that intro to “On The Roundabout”, which Donin nails with dogged funkiness until wildcard keyboards player Toby McLaren rubs vaseline on the lens, so he must add his own smears of massively fx’d fuzz: a nice illustration, there, of the ways the parts navigate kaleidoscopic shifts of mood and tempo, despite giving the overall impression of something much more straightforward. So it’s genuinely accessible.
Most of “On The Roundabout” is a slow burn of ill-suppressed urgency, driven by melodic bass and luminous keyboard textures. At ten minutes long it’s the album’s ‘epic’, and one of the few pieces that have anything at all in common with the ‘psychedelia’ of contemporaneous Nordic progressive jazz: its conclusion is pure London out of downtown NYC, which is a sound Led Bib and fellow travellers Acoustic Ladyland pretty much defined ten years ago: hookier numbers like the punchy “Women’s Power” present a next generation evolution of that sound.
Amid all the passion and bluster there are comparatively laid-back intervals of reflection, with the occasional detour into outer sound (McLaren’s spacey interval in the otherwise swaggering “Marching Orders” passes like a waking dream), but with Led Bib the impulse is ever onward, and always imperative.
Mark Holub – drums; Pete Grogan – alto saxophone; Chris Williams – alto saxophone; Liran Donin – bass; Toby McLaren – keyboards.
Buy Umbrella Weather direct from RareNoise Records.