by Ian Mann
February 15, 2023
The group skilfully wove composed and improvised elements together to create a seamless and totally immersive whole. A genuinely unique musical experience for musicians and audience alike.
Let Spin, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/02/2023.
Chris Williams – alto sax, Moss Freed – guitar, Ruth Goller – electric bass, voice, Finlay Panter – drums
This was the gig that I’d waited more than ten years to see. In 2012 I saw an early performance by the newly formed quartet Let Spin at The Green Note in Camden, a double bill with vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki’s band as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. 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).
It was a terrific evening of music making and although I’ve since seen Alice again I’ve never been able to catch Let Spin for a second time, much as I’ve wanted to, – until now.
Even back in 2012 Let Spin was considered as something of a ‘supergroup’ as it brought together musicians from the scenes in both Manchester (Freed, Panter) and London (Williams, Goller) and was an immediate success.
Of the individual musicians Williams was best known for his work with Led Bib, Goller for her membership of Acoustic Ladyland, Freed for his own Moss Project and Panter as a founder member of the Beats & Pieces Big Band.
Williams was also a recent visitor to The Hive as a member of the quintet led by Portuguese born, London based guitarist and composer Vitor Pereira. Review here;
The individual members of the group have also worked prolifically with other musicians and bands and I have seen all of them performing live in various other contexts over the years.
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;
Their third album “Steal The Light” (2020) saw them experimenting more widely with electronics and post production techniques, with sound engineer Alex Killpartrick playing a substantial role in the creative process. Nevertheless the group’s core identity remained fully intact. Review here;
Although originally convened by Freed Let Spin has always been a highly democratic, essentially leaderless band (they describe themselves as ‘egalitarian’) with all four musician / composers contributing material to the group’s repertoire. Improvisation and collective interaction has always been part of the quartet’s MO but these elements are taken to a whole other level on their most recent album “Thick As Thieves”, released in late 2022.
The ten compositions that make up the album are presented as an unbroken segue as Let Spin approach this recording in the same manner as they do their live shows, as Moss Freed explains;
“We wanted to change the way we made music for this record, to go much more towards an improvised approach to composition, the way we perform live. Each of us would bring some musical material; snippets, grooves, sketches and some more developed pieces that we’d move between as we desired in the moment. That means some materials may not end up being used, others may be referred to and then briefly abandoned, and others still might get more focus. And all the while we improvise as a default. We recorded four long takes, around forty five minutes each, live alongside individual takes of some of the more developed compositions and then edited together a version that became the album.”
Chris Williams adds;
We had a few dates in the EU in February 2020 and we chose to experiment with segues between the tunes featuring improvised solos and duos. This exploration and sense of adventure was extremely exciting and fed into the compositions within the set and subsequently into the recording of ‘Thick As Thieves’. Alongside this for the album sessions I brought an expanded pedalboard of effects. It was eye-opening how having more effects on the sax impacted the whole band, not merely in terms of sonority but how we all interacted, liberating the band from heading to familiar ground and pushing us away from assuming more conventional quartet roles when improvising. For this album we set out to capture the essence of how these two components have fed into our development. The band sound is still there, though with a strong sense of new sonic spaces being explored, both collectively and as individuals”.
It’s an approach that was honed by further post pandemic touring in 2021 and the album was recorded in the September of that year with Alex Killpartrick again forming part of the engineering team. The band cite Paul Motian, Albert Ayler, Marc Ribot, Zu and Jim Black, particularly his AlasNoAxis project, as key sources of inspiration with regard to their current sound as elements of jazz and improv combine with avant rock. The album is presented as a single piece of music but is broken down into ten distinct sections composed by the different members of the band.
My review of “Thick As Thieves”, from which much of the above material has been sourced, can be found here;
Early 2023 has seen the band touring the UK and structuring their sets in the same manner as the “Thick Of Thieves” recording. At Shrewsbury this consisted of two unbroken sets, each around forty five minutes in duration and with the group performing a mix of composed and improvised music. All four musicians were equipped with sheet music but the performance very much had the feel of an improv gig about it as the group skilfully wove the composed and improvised elements together to create a seamless whole. The “Thick As Thieves” recording includes written material from all four members, while the group’s ten year existence has helped them to develop an almost telepathic rapport as improvisers.
Williams later showed me the ‘set list’ for tonight’s show, which looked almost like a graphic score with the names of tunes listed in a deliberately haphazard fashion, pieces that could be dipped into and out of or simply ignored as the group saw fit. Some of these were sourced from earlier recordings. Tonight’s performance certainly wasn’t a straight run through the new album, although I did recognise some parts of it, and it’s fair to say that at this point in their existence every Let Spin show is a genuinely unique musical experience for musicians and audiences alike.
Tonight was Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s first live event of 2022, the scheduled January show by saxophonist Martin Speake and his quartet having been cancelled due to the illness of the leader. It has to be said that the attendance tonight was disappointingly small, perhaps due to the adventurous nature of Let Spin’s music, but those that were there were largely highly appreciative of an immersive listening experience that drew them deep into Let Spin’s distinctive sound-world.
The first set began quietly with the sound of intertwining sax, bass and guitar melody lines and with Panter providing economical brushed drum accompaniment. Gradually the band members began to ramp up the energy levels as Panter switched to sticks, before the intensity subsided once more with Williams temporarily sitting out as the focus switched to the melodic interplay between Goller’s electric bass and Freed’s electric guitar, with Panter providing succinct drum commentary.
Goller’s bass technique involved playing both with and without a pick and her playing throughout was both powerfully rhythmic and highly melodic, qualities that she also brings to other bands that she is involved with, among them Melt Yourself Down, Vula Viel and Chris Montague’s Warmer Than Blood. Tonight Goller also added ethereal wordless vocals, singing off mic but adding yet more colour and texture to the Let Spin sound. She also leads her own vocal trio Skylla, featuring the adventurous vocalists Lauren Kinsella and Alice Grant. This line up is scheduled to appear at the 2023 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
Goller’s vocal melodies were offset by Freed’s guitar counterpoint. Freed’s guitars were augmented by a large pedalboard and a floor mounted effects unit and he also made effective and judicious use of e-bow as he subsequently accompanied Williams’ alto.
The saxophonist also made extensive use of technology via his own pedalboard, as described in his interview above, while Goller was equipped with plenty of pedals of her own.
The music continued to ebb and flow in the manner of a musical tapestry with thunderous electric bass combining with powerful, rock influenced guitar and drums as Let Spin temporarily went into classic ‘power trio’ mode.
The sights and sounds of band members dropping in and out of the musical dialogue was a common occurrence as various smaller musical conversations took place within the overall quartet framework – say bass and drums or sax, guitar, drums. Although the various instruments took turns in leading the music there were no obvious, sign posted jazz solos and therefore no interim audience applause during the course of either set.
The first set built to a climax via some powerful math rock style riffing featuring Williams’ soaring sax and Freed’s heavy rock guitar, all powered along by Goller’s monstrous bass and Panter’s dynamic drumming.
An excellent first half that was rewarded with an enthusiastic reception from a genuinely listening audience that had allowed itself to become thoroughly absorbed by the quartet’s extraordinary music.
The start of set two picked up on some of that energy as Freed cranked out some heavy guitar riffs, with Panter providing suitable drum punctuation. Goller joined to recreate the power trio scenario of the first set and Freed again made use of the e-bow during the course of his solo, eventually passing the baton on to Goller’s electric bass.
Williams had been biding his time, but he also made effective use of musical technology as his alto came to the fore, making use of echo and loop effects, his electronically treated sounds augmented by the earthier abrasions of Panter’s cymbal scrapes.
Eventually all four musicians coalesced around a monumental riff with Williams delivering a powerful alto sax solo above a propulsive bass and drum groove, the storm finally subsiding to leave the sound of unaccompanied electric bass, with Goller wielding a plectrum and picking in the style of a guitarist.
Together with Panter she subsequently established a hypnotic groove that provided the platform for Freed’s FX drenched guitar solo.
A word here for Panter’s contribution. With his kit set up on the left hand side of the stage (as viewed from the audience) he was able to face the other members of the band and was therefore fully integrated into the musical dialogue. He may be best known as the engine of the mighty B&PBB but he is also a player of great sensitivity and subtlety, qualities that he frequently displayed this evening, alongside his more powerful and dynamic contributions. He is currently resident in Berlin and had returned to the UK specifically for this tour.
I was totally immersed in the music by now and found myself taking fewer and fewer notes. I’ve set the scene so I’m just going to let the rest of this absorbing set spin off into the ether.
It was very different to that performance at the Green Note all those years ago, and although no less enjoyable it was still fascinating to see how the band has developed during the interim.
Those that attended enjoyed tonight’s performance immensely and the band were rewarded with healthy CD and merch sales. There were even T-shirts, a rarity on the sales desk at The Hive.
My thanks to all four band members for speaking with me afterwards and it’s interesting to note that Let Spin’s experiments have encouraged Freed to further explore the territory on the cusp between composition and improvisation on his recently released double album “Micromotives” (Discus Records). It’s a recording that features his large ensemble Union Division, the line up including Williams. It’s a work that I intend to take a closer look at in due course.
In the meantime Let Spin have the following UK dates;
Wed 15th Feb - Lescar, Sheffield
Thur 23rd Mar - Free Range, Canterbury
Sat 25th Mar - The Rose Hill, Brighton
More information at;
blog comments powered by Disqus