by Ian Mann
January 28, 2014
Their least classifiable album to date, certainly the most interesting, and arguably the best.
Get The Blessing
“Lope and Antilope”
(Naim Jazz naimcd199)
It’s incredible to think that “Lope and Antilope” is the fourth album from Bristol based “punk jazz” quartet Get The Blessing. What at first looked like a side project for Portishead collaborators Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums) has developed into a working band with its own identity and unique sense of humour. The group’s jazz component comes in the main from trumpeter Pete Judge and saxophonist Jake McMurchie with the band’s name coming from the Ornette Coleman tune “The Blessing”. Indeed this was the group’s original moniker before an enforced name change due to the existence of an American rock act with the same title.
Over the years the group’s music has subtly expanded along with their name and each release has shown clear signs of artistic growth centred around the basic template set out by the band’s 2008 début album “All Is Yes”, a surprise winner at that year’s BBC Jazz Awards. Early GTB tunes were tight and punchy with catchy melodies and riffs and song like structures that belied the chordless line up and Ornette inspired origins.
The group’s second album, “Bugs In Amber”, introduced darker atmospheres and textures, in part via a greater reliance on studio overdubs. This was a trend continued on 2012’s “OC DC”, dedicated to Coleman and Don Cherry, an album that introduced a greater degree of live electronica alongside memorable guest appearances by vocalist Robert Wyatt and Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley, the latter a regular GTB contributor. At the time I commented that this offering album was the group’s “most multi faceted album yet”.
“Lope and Antilope”, the band’s second album for the Naim label, is still instantly recognisable as a GTB record but the circumstances behind its recording mark a significant departure for the group. Previous releases have featured through composed, often thoroughly road tested, material and all have been recorded at Barr’s Bristol based J & J studio, effectively GTB HQ. This time round the band decamped with engineer Tim Allen, most familiar for his work as a guitarist with Bat for Lashes, to a deserted pottery in Pembrokeshire (owned by Barr’s mother) with no pre-conceived material. The ten items on the new album thus evolved from spontaneous jamming and although the finished product has been severely edited it has its birth in improvisation, making this GTB’s most orthodox “jazz” record yet.
Not that there’s anything conventionally “jazzy” about GTB’s sound. Horn men Judge and McMurchie continue to experiment with a wide array of pedals, knobs and other electronic gizmos (most of them originally designed for use with guitars) as they treat the sound of their instruments in real time. Their effects are therefore born “of the moment” rather than being the result of studio post production. It’s an approach that has served GTB well in the several exciting live shows I’ve been privileged to witness by the band over the last five years or so. With Utley also on board for at least part of the journey GTB’s soundscapes on this new recording are as fascinating as anything they’ve produced.
The album title is typical of GTB’s warped West Country wit. Humour has always been an essential part of the GTB experience, Barr’s surreal, deadpan, darkly humorous tune introductions are a vital part of their live performances. The word “lope” was first used by the band to describe some of the rhythms that developed from their Pembrokeshire jam sessions. They coined the phrase “antilope” to describe other kinds of rhythms and the typically bonkers idea of having every tune title ending in “ope” came up. Eventually the band decided that this was taking things a bit too far, even for them, but a spin of the album soon reveals that much of that original idea remains.
However we begin with “Quiet” which begins with Deamer’s brushed grooves, quickly joined by the sound of Barr’s distinctive bass guitar chording. These hypnotic rhythmic figures underpin woozy sax and muted, vaguely Miles-ian trumpet. A discreet amount of electronica imbues the music as it sinuously unfolds with McMurchie’s sax routed through a distortion pedal to generate theremin like sounds . A compelling and beguiling start
The electronic influence is even more marked on the more forceful “Little Ease” as the dubby vibe that doubtless stems from Barr and Deamer’s trip hop past remains. Multi-tracked horns, including McMurchie on what sounds like baritone sax, blast out above Deamer’s powerful rock infused rhythms. This time Judge gets use of the distortion pedal, the device apparently purchased for a knock down price at a music shop en route to the recording.
The catchy “Corniche” is even more unashamedly groove based with Barr’s busy bass figures locking in with Deamer’s relentless grooves. They leave Judge and McMurchie plenty of room in which to soar, indeed Judge’s solo is almost conventionally jazzy, but elsewhere there’s plenty of electronic trickery too on a piece that borrows from the trance inducing properties of dance music.
“Antilope” represents the first of “those titles” and packs a typically seductive, constantly evolving groove which provides the launch pad for fascinating interplay between, and individual features for, McMurchie, Utley and Judge.
Meanwhile “Luposcope” is deliciously chilled out and reveals GTB edging ever closer to the jazz/ambient sound of Portico Quartet as other worldly electronic sounds swirl around Deamer’s hypnotic hand drum patterns.
The title of “Viking Death Moped” is perhaps a nod in the direction of the tune “Suki’s Suzuki” which appeared on the band’s début CD. This time the groove is heavier and comparisons have been made to the Motorik rhythms of kraut rock. McMurchie contributes baleful Van Der Graaf type sax blasts as GTB tip their hats in the direction of 70’s prog. In the closing stages Utley’s guitar threatens to take flight but is faded out in a particularly tantalising/frustrating piece of editing.
“Hope (For The Moment)” begins quietly, like the morning sun peeping over the horizon, but soon develops an insistent brushed groove above which horn sounds and electronica are skilfully layered, the groove later becoming more intense as Barr becomes more involved and Deamer picks up his sticks. The horn sounds become increasingly distorted on one of the album’s most distinctive tracks.
“Trope” continues the trippy, dubby, ambient vibe with Judge again deploying the group’s new toy - yes it’s that distortion pedal again. McMurchie’s sax hovers and flutters and there’s even a vibes like sound as Barr and Deamer lay down typically implacable grooves.
It’s possible that “Lope”, arguably the title track, is the piece that set all of this off. It’s one of the most striking pieces on the album, its song like structure and punchy delivery representing a link with GTBs past. What might have been conventional jazz solos are ingeniously treated with McMurchie really digging in with some powerful tenor sax. The tune ends with a tantalising snatch of piano.
The closing “Numbers” welcomes Utley back to the fold as the band initially adopt the chilled out ambient approach before upping the ante again with some powerful post rock grooves.
“Lope and Antilope” is simultaneously Get The Blessing’s most and least jazz record. Most because of its birth in improvisation, least because of its use of electronic textures and non jazz rhythms as the group edge closer to post rock, ambient and dance music. As such it’s perhaps their least classifiable album to date, certainly the most interesting, and arguably the best. It’s an album that’s likely to break down genres, although the group’s gigging schedule does see them playing a number of jazz festivals including Liverpool, Bristol and Cheltenham.
I’ve followed GTB’s progress since their 2008 début and it’s been a fascinating and hugely enjoyable process watching their music develop. Jazz purists may sniff but six years on they remain one of the most interesting bands around - and a terrific live act. I hope to catch them somewhere on their forthcoming spring tour. See http://www.gettheblessing.co.uk for dates.
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