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by Ian Mann

May 13, 2011


There's a freshness and exuberance about the music on "Koi Bombs" that makes it highly invigorating.


“Koi Bombs”

(Gaffer Records)

Colin Webster is in his late 20’s, lives in London and plays tenor saxophone in a number of line-ups including The Spasm Band and the self described electro/new wave/punk band Chik Budo. However he’s a jazzer at heart with a list of musical heroes that includes such uncompromising, big toned saxophone players as John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman and John Zorn. This list gives a pretty good idea of where Webster is coming from on much of this totally improvised set released on the Lyon based Gaffer record label, home to other maverick musos including Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. 

Webster’s colleagues on this uncompromising trio outing are drummer Mark Holub and keyboard player Toby McLaren, musicians best known for their roles with the award winning band Led Bib. One of the Bib’s twin alto saxophonists, Chris Williams, has also worked in a trio with Webster and Holub as well as playing with Webster as part of Chik Budo. The album is expertly engineered by Alex Bonney of the Loop Collective.

Led Bib are perennial Jazzmann faves and it’s interesting to hear Holub and McLaren playing in a different context. Webster’s press release describes the trio’s music as containing (among other things) “an often dark and intensely raucous stew of de-tuned analogue keyboards, abrasive tenor saxophone squalls and hyperkinetic drumming”. These are qualities that one could also apply to Led Bib but it’s immediately obvious how much more spontaneous the trio’s music is. Indeed it’s interesting to note just how tightly structured and disciplined Led Bib’s music seems by comparison.

Nonetheless Holub and McLaren still bring many elements of their parent band to this project. Holub’s drumming is as energetic and full on as ever and McLaren produces a wide range of consistently interesting and often downright dirty sounds from his doctored Fender Rhodes and Juno 60. Webster has a broad improvisers vocabulary that draws on his saxophone heroes but also incorporates more contemporary ideas.

“Koi Bombs” itself sets the tone for much of the album, with fiercely whinnying tenor sax, powerful, rhythmically fluid drumming and with McLaren producing some frankly filthy sounds from his keyboards. It’s all authentically free and spontaneous, stop and start, with the trio consciously resisting the temptation to settle on a Led Bib style groove or riff.

If the title track is relatively full on the following “You Had Me At Woman” is more reflective and even less structured. Webster’s slap tonguing sax trades glitches with McLaren’s keyboard interjections while Holub circles around them around them on the drums, his playing emphasising texture rather than pulse or rhythm and utilising all parts of his kit.

“Para Lax” is back to the hammer and tongs approach with bellicose sax and hyperactive drumming. At times it almost sounds like Led Bib before McLaren’s alternately chiming/grungy Rhodes takes the music somewhere altogether freer and less structured.

“Say Raa” builds from Holub’s drum intro through a stuttering drums/sax dialogue later joined by dense, underpinning Fender Rhodes. The music subsequently gains an edgy momentum powered by McLaren’s keyboards before ending in a freer three way dialogue.

“Tusk Of Tusks” features vocalised, overblown sax inflections eerie keyboard sounds and Holub’s receptive drumming. There’s a real “sci-fi” feel to this piece that eventually erupts into a rumbling groove topped off with Webster’s screaming sax contortions.

The urgent, skittering “Red Mullet” contains some of the most obviously “free” playing of the set.
By contrast the following “Out” is concerned with atmospherics and texture, sounding as if it was recorded in deep space and representing the return of the trio’s “sci- fi” sound. The second half of the piece, featuring McLaren’s gently shimmering sequenced keyboard sounds, is particularly charming.

The closing “Skavsta” explores similarly atmospheric territory. I note that Webster’s list of influences includes the Norwegian saxophonist Hakon Kornstad and there’s something of the feel of Kornstad’s “Dwell Time” album here with Webster’s delicate multiphonic sax sound complemented by the the drone of McLaren’s synth as Holub sits out the final number.

There’s a freshness and exuberance about the music on “Koi Bombs” that makes it highly invigorating. It’s a lot more accessible than many free improv recordings and should hold considerable appeal to the members of Led Bib’s considerable fan base. It’s refreshing to hear Holub and McLaren in another setting and although the record contains a good deal of aggression and sonic bluster there are plenty of more reflective,atmospheric episodes too, including some moments of genuine beauty. These may be “just jams” but they’re full of ideas, constantly evolving and the relative brevity of each piece ensures that no idea outstays its welcome.

I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this recording. The trio only get to gig together very rarely but on the evidence of this recording their live shows should be well worth investigating.

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