by Ian Mann
June 30, 2016
The band's hardest hitting album yet. WSP's music still sounds wildly exciting and very much still on track.
“For King & Country”
WorldService Project, led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft have long been Jazzmann favourites thanks to their irreverent blend of ‘punk jazz’ which has evoked comparisons with Frank Zappa, John Zorn and Django Bates among others. Indeed Morecroft has described his group’s music as being “like a cage fight between Weather Report, Stravinsky, Meshuggah, Frank Zappa and Monty Python”.
“For King & Country” is the group’s third album and their first for RareNoise Records. It follows in the wake of their promising 2010 début “Relentless” and the excellent “Fire In A Pet Shop”, released in 2013. WSP are also founders of the innovative Match & Fuse programme which facilitates ‘cultural exchanges’ between young jazz and improvising musicians from various European countries. A typical Match & Fuse gig will feature a set from the ‘host’ band and one from their guests followed by a communal ‘mash up’ at the end of the evening. WSP have released a series of EPs featuring themselves in conjunction with a number of European artists and the scheme has also resulted in an annual festival with London, Oslo and Rome among the cities to have hosted the event. Match & Fuse has been an outstanding success, let’s hope that it can continue to flourish in the wake of the EU referendum result.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see WSP perform live on a number of occasions including festival appearances at Brecon and London plus a Match & Fuse double bill at Dempsey’s in Cardiff which teamed WSP with Germany’s excellent Zodiak Trio. All of these performances have been intense, exciting, energetic, high octane affairs with WSP really ‘going for it’. A WSP gig is a thoroughly entertaining and invigorating listening experience.
Morecroft says of the band’s approach to live work; “WorldService Project is a very intense, high energy live show. We throw ourselves into it and hope to come out alive at the other end. And if you’re not bleeding by the end of it you haven’t tried hard enough”.
WSP have also attracted attention for their ‘matching and fusing’ of different musical styles, often lurching from one genre to another during the course of a single tune with jazz, rock, funk and electronica all grist to their musical mill. It’s this ‘cut-up’ aspect of Morecroft’s composing that has invited the Django Bates comparison but Morecroft’s fiery playing on a variety of keyboard instruments also compares well with that of one of British jazz’s most talented musical mavericks.
If anything “For King & Country” is more direct, focussed and downright angry than its two predecessors. There’s no let up in the band’s sonic attack as Morecroft explains;
“Punk jazz for me is more a reflection of rebellion. Maybe it’s jazz but it’s played with an ‘f-you’ to the establishment and systems that dictate what jazz is supposed to mean or be”.
“I wanted For King & Country to be an epic listen, that from moment to moment it could rage intensely, pull at heartstrings, flip in double somersaults around the room or sneer sardonically at the establishment. It is an incredibly personal record for me, much more than any other, with true heartbreak, anger, loss, disillusionment, ecstasy and piss-taking a-plenty! But at its heart, I hope, is purity of gesture, intensity and sincerity”.
Helping Morecroft to deliver what has been described as ’ a punk jazz manifesto’ are founder members Tim Ower (saxophones) and Raphael Clarkson (trombone) but the album features a brand new rhythm section with Arthur O’Hara taking over on bass from the departed Conor Chaplin while Harry Pope becomes WSP’s third drummer following in the wake of founder member Neil Blandford and his successor Liam Waugh.
WSP’s tough, steely, confrontational new sound is due in part to the influence of Chris Sharkey, one time guitarist with Acoustic Ladyland and Trio VD and now leader of the trio Shiver. Sharkey acted as the producer of this new album and also collaborated with the band on the arrangements of Morecroft’s tunes.
Sharkey’s influence is immediately apparent on the tumultuous opener “Flick The Beanstalk”, a tune that was included in the band’s set back in Cardiff back in 2014. The album version is a blisteringly intense performance featuring wailing saxes, rasping trombone, filthy sounding keyboards and even the deranged vocalising of Morecroft and Clarkson. The sound is harder edged and packs even more of a powerful punch than that of “Fire In A Pet Shop”, and yes, there is an epic quality about it. But for listeners already familiar with the band there are plenty of recognisable WSP trademarks too, particularly the odd meter riffing, sudden shifts in direction and startling dynamic contrasts. In that respect it’s business as usual, but with even more of that ‘f-you’ attitude of which Morecroft speaks.
There’s no let up in the intensity with furious angular riffing of “Fuming Duck”, a glorious racket that has been compared to prime time King Crimson with its mix of wickedly fuzzed up bass, wailing synths, heavily treated blaring horns and complex but brutal drumming. There are further wordless vocal choruses from Morecroft and Clarkson, WSP aren’t a song based band as such but the human voice appears to be becoming an increasingly important component of their already distinctive sound.
The introduction to “Murano Faro” with its dreamy, gently trilling electric piano and wispy sounding trombone gives the listener a chance to take a breather but before long the band are building up a groove around which are sprinkled spacey, dub like electronic effects. The beat gets stronger and the layering deeper and ever more complex as the music peaks before slowly ebbing away once more.
The brutal “Son of Haugesund” packs a monster punch with its rumbling bass and drum grooves and jabbing horn and keyboard stabs. The riff fest is periodically punctured by loosely constructed free jazz squalls but it’s the intensity and agility of the riffing that will last longest in the listener’s memory alongside the powerful sax and keyboard contributions of Messrs. Ower and Morecroft. This time round parallels have been drawn with Led Zeppelin but I’m also reminded of the mighty Van Der Graaf Generator – complex atonal riffing, screaming sax, dense, doom laden keyboards – it’s all here, but with an emphatically 21st century attitude.
A salvo from Pope’s drum kit introduces the zany “Go Down Ho’Ses” with its crazed mixture of ska, funk, and prog rock riffery. There’s a distinct element of Zappa in there and something of the anarchic spirit of Loose Tubes too. Ower impresses with some towering sax soloing and there’s a brilliant electric bass feature from O’ Hara too. Brief unaccompanied sax/trombone dialogues punctuate the piece but its the now familiar monstrous riffing and air of demented energy that help to define the piece.
“Chamonix” parodies the Peter Gunn theme to hilarious and subversive effect, the punctuating brass stabs subsequently developing into something darker and more unsettling as the band pile on the layers and unleash some more monumental riffs.
“Mr. Giggles” reprises the sinister circus character that Morecroft introduced on “Fire In A Pet Shop” with the track “Dance Of The Clown”. There are more vocals here, juxtaposed with parodic circus music, more powerful riffing and a heavily manipulated trombone solo from Clarkson that makes convincing use of electronic effects as the production piles on the layers, including the sampled voice of the unsettling and disturbing Mr. Giggles.
The introduction to the concluding “Requiem For A Worm” offers one of the album’s few pauses for breath as it features Ower and Clarkson in gently reflective mood. But the peace and tranquillity is gradually subverted as the group introduce a slow burning, but ever more powerful groove, which develops in layers of intensity to reach a cacophonous climax, this subsequently truncated by the closing choral vocals of Morecroft and Clarkson.
Despite the personnel changes WSP have come up with a hugely impressive new album. O’Hara and Pope have slotted in perfectly and have helped to make “For King & Country” the band’s hardest hitting album yet. It’s probably less diverse than its immediate predecessor but it does have a harder edge and a greater degree of focus. Above all it sounds ‘angry’, the band like to refer themselves as playing ‘punk jazz’ and this album very much reflects that attitude despite the prog/math rock complexity of much of the material.
WSP come from a British punk jazz lineage that embraces Partisans, Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib, Trio VD and others. This time round they sound less like the bastard progeny of Django Bates and more like Acoustic Ladyland circa “Last Chance Disco” which is perhaps not totally surprising with Sharkey’s hand on the production tiller. Sharkey does a fine job and the way he shapes the band’s already distinctive sound is both impressive and convincing.
WSP’s raw, abrasive, full on sound won’t be to the taste of some jazz fans but one suspects that Morecroft is trying to reach out to a different audience. But there’s no denying the brightness and cleverness of his ideas or the quality of the group’s playing and to these ears WSP’s music still sounds wildly exciting and very much still on track.
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