by Ian Mann
April 15, 2020
“Steal The Light” sees Let Spin building upon their previous successes and subtly altering their sound, but without losing their essential group identity.
“Steal The Light”
(Efpi Records FP033)
Moss Freed -guitar, Chris Williams – alto saxophone, Ruth Goller – bass, Finlay Panter – drums
“Steal The Light” is the third album release from Let Spin, a democratic quartet featuring musicians from the London and Manchester jazz scenes.
Initially formed by guitarist Moss Freed, originally from Manchester but now based in London, the band have been around for a while. In November 2012 I witnessed an excellent performance by the then newly constituted Let Spin at the Green Note in Camden Town as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. Although only formed in the June of that year the band were already a highly cohesive unit with a strong group identity. My account of that show can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
(The Let Spin performance is the final item in the article).
Most of the material played at the Green Note found its way on to the group’s superb eponymous début album which was released on the Manchester based Efpi record label in early 2014. Review here;
The band followed this with “Letting Go”, also on Efpi, in 2015, another strong showing that consolidated their earlier success. Review here;
Let Spin represents something of a contemporary jazz ‘supergroup’ whose members are all equally well known for their involvement in other projects. Freed leads his own Moss Project group and released the superb “What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes?” in 2013, a fascinating and sumptuously packaged work that combined music with literature. Freed’s compositions were inspired by short stories and poems written specially for the project by such famous authors as Colum McCann, Naomi Alderman ,Lawrence Norfolk, James Miller and Joe Dunthorne and the acclaimed Lebanese writer Hanan al Shaykh. Review here;
Goller was part of Moss Project and her bass playing, mainly on the electric version of the instrument, has also been heard with the bands Oriole, Acoustic Ladyland, Big Cat, Melt Yourself Down, Vula Viel, Metamorphic, Golden Age of Steam and Bojan Z’s Tetraband.
In addition to this impressive list Goller has also recently been working in the band of vocalist/guitarist and songwriter Sarah Gillespie.
Chris Williams is best known as a member of the mighty Led Bib but his powerful and distinctive alto playing has also been heard with Led Bib bassist Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats project and alongside Goller in pianist Laura Cole’s Metamorphic group. Williams has also worked extensively with clarinettist Arun Ghosh and with drummer Sarathy Korwar.
Liverpool born Panter is best known for his membership of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band. He is currently living in Berlin, where he has also performed with the Sound 8 Orchestra.
With “Steal The Light” Let Spin continue to demonstrate that they are a highly democratic ensemble with writing duties continuing to be shared around the group. All four members contribute compositions to the new album, which also includes a significant creative contribution from sound engineer Alex Killpartrick, who had been involved with their previous two releases but takes on a more substantial role here.
Killpartrick’s greater involvement arose from the band’s desire to make greater use of the recording studio as an “instrument”. The music was documented at the Duality Studio at the University of Hull with the quartet’s Bandcamp page summarising their recording methods as follows;
“Prior to the sessions the members of the band exchanged mixtapes, introducing each other to electronic soundscapes and production techniques that would ensure a clear vision and cohesive sound. With Killpartrick at the board their compositions were captured as live takes, but with caution taken to separate each instrument, so that their performances could be manipulated with effects in post production”.
The idea was that these methods would allow the band to challenge conventional ideas of meter, groove and melody.
Let Spin’s music has always combined jazz chops with rock power and this new album is no exception. Opener “Wormholes”, written by Freed, combines almost prog rock like time signatures with the freer structures of improvised jazz as Freed’s ambient guitar washes, allied to his extra synths and sound design, provide the backdrop for the complex rhythmic interplay of Goller and Panter and the powerful sax blasting of Williams. There’s a suitably spacey, sci-fi feel about the music, the stuttering rhythms and free jazz meanderings suggestive, perhaps, of the Let Spin ship negotiating its way through the twists and turns of the asteroid belt before roaring out at full velocity on the other side. Freed himself has stated that the piece was inspired by skipping CDs and “time trickery” and that the central section is an exploration of “new ways to organise free playing” with “frozen chords” starting together and gradually drifting apart.
The composer’s trademark volcanic electric bass introduces Goller’s “Sketch”, the piece selected as the album’s first single. Goller and Panter lay down a series of grooves, some of them bearing the influence of hip hop, which form the basis for a powerful solo from Williams, who also combines with the sound of Freed’s heavily treated guitar. With regard to this piece Goller has spoken of her love for “the sound of guitar and sax in unison, jumping around in pretty big intervals”.
“Bells” comes from the pen of Williams, whose sax initially probes searchingly above the sound of Freed’s subtly distorted guitar arpeggios, as Goller and Panter establish a pulse that evolves into a harder edged groove as the piece gathers power and momentum. The piece follows a similar narrative arc to Freed’s opener and incorporates a more freely structured passage mid tune, with the composer’s alto continuing to probe, before breaking cover as Goller and her colleagues establish the ferocious groove that fuels the closing section.
On a highly rhythmic record that draws inspiration from the works of bassist Petter Eldh and drummers Mark Guiliana, Anton Eger and Jim Black the next three compositions come from the pen of drummer Finlay Panter.
The first of these, “Cosmoss” (see what he just did there) defies initial expectations, an impressionistic piece that immediately conjures up visions of deep space via Freed’s ethereal guitar and an almost subliminal rumble, with the sounds of the composer’s mallets allied to subtle electronic manipulations. It’s left to Williams’ alto to pierce the darkness, incisively at first before fading away to leave the sound of Freed’s guitar, a lonely beacon in the still rumbling void.
Whether named for the town or for the comedian “Morecambe” brings us back down to earth. If any piece defines the quartet’s experiments with rhythm and meter it’s this one. Inspired by the hip hop drumming of Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave each strike of the snare drum triggers a massive, dubby reverb. This is the sound of Panter experimenting with playing ‘off the click’, effectively “out of time, but in time”. The effect is glitchy and unsettling, and the drummer’s colleagues respond in kind, with stabbing bass, molten sax and echoing guitar, the latter also drenched in reverb. For the listener it’s a thrilling, if sometimes disorienting sonic journey.
Panter’s final contribution with the pen is the rousing “Los”, powered by Goller’s monstrous bass, Freed’s circling guitar and Panter’s crisp drum grooves. This outpouring energy subsequently sees Freed cranking up his axe and heading for the outer limits with a scorching, rock influenced guitar solo. Later he provides the sonic backdrop to a similarly incendiary sax solo from Williams as Goller and Panter continue to stoke the rhythmic fires. It’s a high energy conclusion to Panter’s triptych of compositions, and a huge favourite at the group’s live shows one would suspect.
Goller’s aptly named composition “Ghostly” benefits from the input of her husband, pianist, organist and composer Kit Downes, who “chopped up, re-ordered, and added layers to the composition before mixing it”. Consequently the piece sounds substantially different to the rest of the album, closer in sound and feel to electronic music with the core instruments receiving their most drastic and radical treatments to date.
The album closes with Williams’ “The Aftermath”, which begins in surprisingly peaceful fashion given the uncompromising nature of much of the material that has gone before. However Freed’s gently rambling guitar solo adds a note of disquiet, a quality encouraged by a little electronic distortion, as the music gradually gathers momentum and Williams takes over as the featured soloist. Eventually the composition takes on an anthemic grandeur as the ensemble meshes together to conclude the album on a high note.
“Steal The Light” sees Let Spin building upon their previous successes and subtly altering their sound, but without losing their essential group identity. The post production work of Killpartrick and Downes expands the quartet’s sonic palette and introduces new elements to their sound, adding electronica and hip hop to their range of jazz and rock influences. It all makes for a fascinating, but still viscerally exciting, listening experience.
As a fan of many of the other acts that the individual members of Let Spin are (or have been) involved with I knew from the very start that I would love this band. Three albums and in and they are still delivering, and I would readily recommend Let Spin’s music to anybody interested in the more adventurous end of the British jazz scene.
Curious rock listeners should also check out Let Spin, a band that play with the kind of power and conviction that fans of avant rock in particular should be able to relate to.
“Steal The Light” will be released on April 17th 2020 and is available from the Let Spin
Bandcamp page; https://letspin.bandcamp.com/album/steal-the-light
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