Thursday, June 28, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
trio VD's energy, inventiveness and sheer chutzpah makes them one of the UK's most exciting young groups in any genre.
(Naim Jazz Naimcd174)
The Leeds based trio’s second full length album builds on the strengths of their recent EP “X”, a typically iconoclastic work consisting of four pieces in the trio VD style inspired by the characters of the judges on the X Factor.
Guitarist Chris Sharkey, saxophonist Christophe de Bezenac and drummer Chris Bussey mix jazz and rock instrumental styles with rough vocals and sampled voices to produce a “cut and paste” style of composition that owes much to the methodology of John Zorn yet retains a distinctive identity of it’s own, definitely British if not uniquely Northern. The group also add Sonic Youth and Frank Zappa as influences and I’ve previously drawn parallels to Wayne Krantz and King Crimson.
Trio VD grew out of the improvised music scene in Leeds (the LIMA axis) and burst on to the national music scene in 2009 with their acclaimed début album “Fill It Up With Ghosts” (reviewed elsewhere on this site by Tim Owen). “Ghosts” won the best jazz album category in the Mojo magazine awards of 2009, an indication perhaps of their appeal to rock listeners, and the group began to build a following with their exciting live shows attracting adventurous rock fans as well as jazzers. They are no strangers to UK rock venues and their audiences tend to be younger than the usual jazz demographic.
The recording of “Maze” saw the group holed up in a Leeds basement feverishly writing, rehearsing and recording. The fascination with speech and other sampled sounds that began with “Ghosts” and was essential to “X” is taken even further here with deeply layered writing and an unprecedented degree of post production. Yet trio VD have lost nothing of their intensity and almost manic energy.
At thirty six minutes “Maze” is a short album by contemporary standards yet the trio cram an awful lot of information into its ten brief but often blistering tracks. All the pieces are credited to the trio as a whole, a sign of their commitment to improvisation- these pieces have been cherry picked from hours of relentless jamming before being given the full trio VD treatment. In a recent Jazzwise interview Bussey spoke of the band’s commitment to sounding like “one machine, one engine” and there’s a real band/gang mentality about their approach with a barbed sense of group humour that also finds expression through the music. Interestingly there are no conventional jazz solos whatsoever such is the tight knit chemistry of the group. Everything is tightly focussed with no single member dominating and the emphasis is very much on group interaction and a distinctive band sound.
The album begins with the relentless energy of “Brick”, a mix of jittery, heavily treated guitar and saxophone phrases, punchy rock drumming and cut up samples of speech that sometimes coalesce into the vocal chant “Brick by Brick”. It’s edgy, nervy and unsettling. I seem to recall the trio playing a version of this at Cheltenham Jazz Festival back in 2010.
“Interlocking” lurches from a brief opening burst of anthemic rock guitar to the densely knit grooves that give the piece its name. This is intense, intelligent, sinewy math rock, the kind of thing that the Fripp/Belew/Levin/Bruford edition of King Crimson might have been proud of.
At only two minutes “Ups” explores similar territory with de Bezenac’s slap tongued alto sax meshing with Sharkey’s guitar and the patter of Bussey’s drums. There’s also an almost animalistic vocal that sounds like a cry of pain.
A single coded phrase tapped out at breakneck speed forms the basis for the manic improvisations of “ Morse”. Feverish speech samples jockey for space with kinetic drumming and machine gun guitar phrases on the most energetic item thus far, yet even here the group find room for a more impressionistic episode that only adds to the sense of unease. This is powerful, uncompromising music yet with an exciting, visceral streak that should hold considerable appeal for rock audiences.
On “Ducks” there are moments when de Bezenac’s sax sounds almost conventional but it’s teamed with the spacey, ethereal sound of Sharkey’s guitar on one of the trio’s more impressionistic numbers. There’s a sense of being lost in the cosmos or of being submersed in the depths of the ocean. The piece is a good example of the group’s emerging talent for soundscaping.
By way of contrast“DBST” features the group at their most full on with bellicose saxophone allied to Sharkey’s power riffing and Bussey’s punchy, often brutal drumming. Again it’s edgy, jumpy and jittery, the riffage punctuated by snatches of samples. Although not for the faint hearted it manages to be both pounding and intelligent.
“Harm” offers more tightly meshed phrases in the style of “Interlocking” and punctuates them with wild punk like vocal interjections, presumably from Bussey who also drums with abandon throughout (comparisons have been made with the late, great Keith Moon). Excoriating sax and searing guitar also combine on yet another slice of restlessly inventive music that brooks no compromise but which is wholly exhilarating. Listening to trio VD is like being strapped into a scary but compulsively exciting fairground ride.
The thrills continue throughout “Interrupting”, another example of the group’s fascination with fiendishly interlocking rhythms, grooves and textures. Sharkey and de Bezenac like to treat their instruments to the point that it’s almost impossible to discern just who’s doing what, the layers of barked, sometimes sampled vocals only adding to the fascination. It could all sound a horrible mess but there’s a kind of ruthless logic about trio VD’s music that makes it strangely compelling despite the intensity and the band’s uncompromising stance.
“Bee” is a short (twenty seven seconds) snippet of alto sax (often slap tongued) and scat vocal and (probably) shadowing guitar. It forms a kind of prelude to “Pet Shop Boys”, the albums longest track, and an encapsulation of all the virtues exhibited in the previous half hour or so. There are monster riffs, tortuous interlocking grooves and the now familiar patchwork of voices. It’s an impressive way to end an intelligent and energising album that crams more good ideas into its brief duration than many other do in twice the time. It may not be an album for jazz purists but trio VD’s energy, inventiveness and sheer chutzpah makes them one of the UK’s most exciting young groups in any genre. With Sharkey and de Bezenac taking an increasing degree of electronic gadgetry out on the road with them it will be interesting to see hoe trio VD develop these ideas in live performance.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.