by Ian Mann
November 02, 2014
Ian Mann enjoys a live performance by this unusual trio and takes a look at their debut album "Hurts So Gut".
Blueblut, Bishop’s Castle Town Hall, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, 01/11/2014.
Drummer Mark Holub is best known as the American born, London based leader of the mighty Led Bib. In this capacity he has been a regular fixture on the Jazzmann web pages and we have also covered his collaborations with saxophonist Colin Webster, either as a duo or as a trio with the addition of Led Bib keyboardist Toby McLaren. Tim Owen also covered a 2010 performance at The Vortex by Mustard Pie, an all star aggregation that featured the rhythm sections of Led Bib (Holub and Liran Donin) and Polar Bear (Sebastian Rochford and Tom Herbert) fronted by the saxophone of Jan Kopinski.
Fast forward to 2014 and although Led Bib is still ongoing Holub has been living in Vienna for the past two years and is clearly relishing the opportunity to work with new collaborators. Among these are the other members of Blueblut, theramin specialist Pamelia Kurstin and guitarist, sonic experimenter and studio owner Chris Janka. The trio originally came together for a one off festival appearance in Vienna but a quickly established rapport saw them continuing as a working unit and recording a début album, “Hurts So Gut” at the studio in Janka’s basement. They are currently touring the UK, having driven themselves all the way from Vienna and with some pretty epic trips still to come in this country - how about Newcastle to London on the day of the official album launch at The Vortex? Hats off to the band as the love of music plus pure stamina triumphs over some pretty daunting logistics.
I was lucky enough to catch Blueblut at a date in Bishop’s Castle, the gig a late addition to the schedule slotted in thanks to Kurstin’s family connections with this delightful small Shropshire town. Although I’d publicised the tour back in August even I only found out about this show at the last minute as I flicked through the pages of “Broad Sheep”, our invaluable local listings magazine, the previous evening in my local pub. So that’s Saturday night sorted then!
I have to admit that I had no idea what to expect from Blueblut. From what I’d read I was expecting the music to be close to the realms of free jazz with improvisation playing a substantial part in the proceedings. To be honest I wasn’t even sure that I was going to like it!
Instead what I heard surprised me - and in a good way. Instead of the free jazz squall I’d been expecting I was surprised to find tunes, grooves, killer riffs and a sense of humour. Blueblut took an obvious delight in their playing, and in each other’s company, and their enthusiasm transmitted itself to a small but appreciative audience, some of whom had travelled a considerable distance themselves to see the band.
Kurstin is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading theramin players whose credits include work with David Byrne and Yoko Ono in addition to a well established solo career. She also appears in director Hans Fjellestadt’s 2004 film “Moog”, a celebration of the life and work of Bob Moog, inventor of the synthesiser but also a champion of the theramin. Kurstin’s instrument was built by the Moog company and it was particularly fascinating to see it played live, a first for me, and, I suspect, for several other members of the audience.
As Kurstin explains it the instrument uses an electro magnetic field to generate sound with an aerial like control determining the pitch and a second ring shaped device controlling volume. These basic sounds were mutated further via an array of floor mounted pedals and other devices. I don’t mean to sound flippant but the way Kurstin plays it it looks like playing air guitar but with a sound coming out. It looks simple but I’ve no doubt that it requires a huge amount of skill and considerable technical expertise. She produced an astonishing array of sounds and textures, many of them far removed from the clichéd spooky sounds of 50’s horror movies or the celebrated use of the instrument on the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, the one piece of theramin music that everybody knows.
Meanwhile Janka’s guitar playing was similarly cliché free and he too used an array of pedals and gizmos to enhance his sound. His guitar and Kurstin’s theramin meshed together like a single entity, sinuously intertwining above the kinetic, fluid, polyrhythmic groove of Holub’s drumming. It was astonishing to see Kurstin producing bass lines on the theramin with this responsibility sometimes transferring to Janka’s top strings as Kurstin took flight on the theramin, her sounds ranging from a whisper to a scream, from the ethereal to the low down, dirty and glitchy. Conventional jazz solos were non existent, this trio was very definitely a highly interactive, tightly focussed collective.
There was a punk like energy to much of Blueblut’s music allied to a avant/math rock rigour as chunky riffs alternated with odd meter grooves. Rough wordless vocals and frequent band laughter added to the fun and it was surprising just how accessible this music was, some of the grooves producing bouts of audience head nodding and foot tapping, particularly on “Monky Buh” (which I took to be an oblique reference to Thelonious and Blakey but I could be wrong).
The as yet unrecorded “Woodchuck” was introduced by a sample of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” and also included the sampled bark of a rapid fire auctioneer merging with the infectious grooves. Blueblut possess a streak of healthy irreverence and with most tunes consisting of short, concentrated thrashes the audience was never bored. It’s not music for the faint hearted but it’s not deliberately obtuse either and is likely to hold considerable appeal for adventurous listeners of both jazz and rock. And yes, I liked it.
It was good to catch up with Mark Holub again and I’m indebted to him for providing me with a review copy of the album. Released on both vinyl and CD and as a download the album presents an early snapshot of the band and I’m told that several of the twelve selections were freely improvised. The group are now much more focussed and there is a greater emphasis on composition and some parts of “Hurt So Gut” do come across as something of an indulgence.
Nevertheless there’s much to enjoy with the punky thrash of opener “You Think” featuring Kurstin’s vocals giving way to the monstrous, rumbling grooves and wailing, muezzin like theramin of “Bondage”.
At eight minutes plus the marvellously titled “Fuckhead Toothbrush” is arguably the album’s centre piece as Kurstin unleashes some of her most extreme theramin playing, soaring siren like above the walloping grooves of Holub and Janka before a more impressionistic ending. I’d hazard that the opening section was written, the long slow fade largely improvised.
Guest vocalist Willi Landl invites us to move our asses on “Apocalypso”, the darkest, most disturbing calypso you’ll ever hear but funny and enjoyable in an unsettling sort of way.
The brief “Big In Iran” is something of an indulgence with its manipulated voices and the sound of children’s toys being used as percussion.
The nine minute “noASMR” is an extended instrumental work out with Janka’s guitar the driving force. It lacks the tight focus of some of the earlier pieces and sounds more like a casual jam. However the closing stages are absolutely killer with some positively gargantuan grooves, riffs and wildly wailing theramin.
At a little over a minute and a half the recorded version of “Monky Bu” is a concentrated burst of energy.
The following “Verpratert” initially follows suit before its frenetic helter skelter riffing metamorphoses into a darker, brooding central section. The uptempo sections that bookend the tune are positively joyous with the group translating something of their warped sense of humour into instrumental sounds.
The brief “Positiv Enough” incorporates a Holub monologue, a skewed commercial for the album that sounds as if it may have been recorded at a gig. It doesn’t add anything to the record.
“Calypsoma” is a companion piece to the earlier “Apocalypso”. Landl’s voice is buried in the mix and the piece is more obviously a calypso than its predecessor - albeit one given the unique Blueblut treatment. Infectious and great fun.
“Erde, Wind & Pfurz” features the trio having fun with what I assume is an old Earth, Wind & Fire riff. Maurice White & Co never sounded anything like this.
The closing “Lullaby” features a wind up child’s musical box and and the sound of a flushing lavatory. Frankly it’s not something you’re likely to want to listen to more than once.
Despite the brief moments where the band let their penchant for the in joke get the better of them there is much to enjoy on “Hurts So Gut” with the large percentage of it well worth hearing. Some of the pieces I instantly recognised from the live show. I was pleasantly surprised by the band and predict that their second album will be more disciplined and even better.
I also predict that they’ll have a great night at The Vortex on Monday 3rd November. The evening will open with a duo performance by Kurstin and drummer Sebastian Rochford. This pair released the album “Ouch Evil Slow Hop” on Slowfoot Records in 2011, a recording that is reviewed elsewhere on this site by Tim Owen alongside a live performance at London’s Café Oto opposite label mates Snorkel.
Try to catch Blueblut if you can, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Remaining UK and European tour dates below;
2 November 2014 - The Bridge, Newcastle
3 November 2014 - Vortex Jazz Club, London (UK Album Launch)
5 November 2014 - D?sseldorf, Germany
6 November 2014 - Frankfurt, Germany
7 November 2014 - Vienna, Austria
8 November 2014 - Linz, Austria
Meanwhile Mark Holub will bring Led Bib back to the Vortex for a London Jazz Festival show on the night of Saturday November 22nd.
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