Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
GTB's most multi faceted album yet with a growing compositional maturity augmented by increasingly imaginative arrangements and a well judged smattering of electronic fairydust.
Get The Blessing
The Bristolian quartet Get The Blessing quickly established a signature sound (and look; they still wear paper bags over their heads) with their acclaimed 2008 début “All Is Yes”, a recording that was given the accolade of “Best Album” at the 2008 British Jazz Awards.
“All Is Yes” revealed GTB to be a highly energetic outfit who liked to muddy the waters dividing jazz and rock, appropriate perhaps for a group taking the inspiration for its name from a piece by Ornette Coleman, a true musical iconoclast. The début album may have been pretty full on with its killer riffs, catchy hooks and song like structures but a couple of pieces hinted at something more, something darker, and the 2009 follow up “Bugs In Amber” added a greater sense of light and shade to the group’s visceral punch and power.
New album “OC DC” continues this progression. The album title is a dedication to both Coleman and his one time trumpet partner Don Cherry but it could also be construed as a nod to a certain Australian rock band. Three albums in and GTB still fields the original line up of sometime Portishead members Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums) with Jake McMurchie (saxes) and Pete Judge (trumpet) filling the Coleman and Cherry roles. Coleman’s chordless jazz still informs the band’s output but they’re just as influenced by contemporary rock and electronica, particularly “parent” group Portishead plus Radiohead, with whom super sessioneer Deamer has also worked. Frank Zappa and “Swordfishtrombones” era Tom Waits have also been name checked by the group as reference points.
“OC DC” refines the group’s sound still further, it’s more densely layered and textured than its predecessors (although there’s less actual overdubbing than on “Bugs”) but there’s nothing po faced about Get The Blessing and the group’s surreal, very English sense of humour still shines out on these eight jointly written pieces. There are guest appearances too, Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley drops by to help out his old band-mates, Clair Hiles adds some piano but the most remarkable of these cameos is the vocal performance by Robert Wyatt on the track “American Meccano”, of which more later.
The seeds for this expansion of the group’s sound palette may have been sown in 2009 when an expanded GTB played a one off show at Bristol’s Colston Hall as part of an event celebrating the refurbishment of the venue plus the strength of the jazz scene in the city. The line up included Utley on guitar, vocalist Tammy Payne and a string quartet. More recently I saw the core group perform at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny with the then new tunes “American Meccano”, “Adagio” and “Low Earth Orbit” finding their way into the set. (See reviews elsewhere on this site).
The album hits the ground running with the title track, building from Deamer’s insistent drum groove and Barr’s loud, urgent, heavily fuzzed up bass. Judge and McMurchie’s horns add a more obvious jazz element with the latter adopting a particularly dirty sound on what sounds like baritone. In many respects it’s classic GTB but there’s something dark and vaguely threatening about the music too, for all its pulsating energy.
The album’s stand out track is “American Meccano” with Robert Wyatt adding his melancholy wordless vocals to the band’s music. Wyatt can be something of an acquired taste but he sounds wonderful here on what must surely be GTB’s most atmospheric number to date. Wyatt’s voice and Utley’s guitar are superb enhancements to the increasingly layered core group sound. The mood of the piece seems to vary between the melancholic and the uplifting and it’s a sign of GTB’s growing compositional maturity that their new tunes seem capable of expressing conflicting emotions almost simultaneously. There’s a real beauty to this piece that sets it apart from much of the group’s previous output.
“Torque” broods and simmers purposefully above a bed of interlocking grooves with Barr’s elastic bass particularly prominent. Judge’s solo is reminiscent of electric era Miles while also hinting at more contemporary European figures such as Nils Petter Molvaer. Hiles’ solo piano is heard on a sparse, sepulchral coda.
“Adagio In Wot Minor” transcends its joky title to establish itself as another of the album’s jewels. Blending the lyricism of “American Meccano” with the brooding tension of “Torque” the now characteristic layered sound is augmented by Utley’s guitar sonics. The guest is a vital component in the success of this tune but once again it’s a fine team effort with McMurchie digging in on tenor to provide the kind of dynamic tension that makes the 2012 version of GTB so interesting.
Barr’s springy bass grooves power “Between Fear And Sex”, a tune that manages to be both quirky and sinister, an atmospheric yet immensely powerful slow burner. Meanwhile “The Waiting” take its inspiration from a Jorge Luis Borges short story about a man awaiting his execution. Barr’s nagging bass groove and Deamer’s almost martial drumming give the piece a relentless, claustrophobic feel. Judge and McMurchie whisper in the darkness, their sounds heavily treated by various electronic devices. Live looping and other gizmos are a real feature of this album as GTB continue to expand their sound. At times they come over like a rather more muscular and down to earth version of Portico Quartet.
The rollicking “Low Earth Orbit” wouldn’t appear out of place on either of the band’s previous albums. A classic GTB hook is given a warped Middle Eastern inflection. A more brooding central section features McMurchie stretching out on tenor underpinned by the threatening rumble of Barr’s electric bass.
The concluding “Pentopia” brings all the new elements of the band together on a lengthy, lilting epic with distinct cinematic qualities. This is a richly textured, electronically enhanced piece of music that morphs through several stages during its journey. There are no “solos” per se but the music is episodic, constantly evolving and always thoroughly absorbing for the listener.
“OC DC” represents GTB’s most multi faceted album yet with a growing compositional maturity augmented by increasingly imaginative arrangements and a well judged smattering of electronic fairydust. It’s the perfect rebuttal to all those critics who wrote them off as being too one dimensional when they first exploded onto the scene four years ago. Indeed each of GTB’s albums has represented an artistic progression but without sacrificing anything of their core sound and identity.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
Ian Mann's reflections on the sudden and tragic passing of the great British jazz pianist, composer and educator John Taylor.
Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Lee Gibson & The Capital City Jazz Orchestra, Dave Jones Quartet, The Session, Steve Waterman Quartet and Hamish Stuart Octet.