Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

November 26, 2020


Their use of electronics to create colour and texture adds genuine interest to their rousing, funky grooves and their direct, riff based approach.

The Acid Drops


(Left Hand Down Records 006)

Tony Law – saxophones, Jeff Stevenson – guitar, guitar synth, Richard Scarr – electric bass, John Baker -drums

“When” is the début album by The Acid Drops, a jazz-funk quartet formed and based in East London.

The band’s initial influences were Herbie Hancock, The Crusaders and Lalo Schifrin, and particularly the 1970s output of these artists. Judging by their band name I assume the Acid Jazz movement of the late 80s/ early 90s was an influence too.

As the quartet’s music has developed they have developed a grittier, harder edged aesthetic and have absorbed a wider range of influences drawn from jazz, electronica and progressive and experimental rock.  Judging by their band name I assume that the Acid Jazz movement of the 80s/90s was an influence too.Their approach is still essentially groove based but incorporates experimental soundscapes and a noirish sensibility that reflects their urban origins.

I’ll admit to not being previously familiar with the group’s members but a glance at their Facebook page indicates that they are experienced musicians who have been around the block. I hope they’ll forgive me if I suggest that they don’t exactly look as if they’re in the first flush of youth.

The album was recorded at studios in London and Essex with drummer John Baker producing and the programme features twelve original tracks collectively written by the members of the quartet.

Things kick off with “Double Shocking Busy”, which incorporates a rumbling bass groove, crisp and economical drumming and punchy tenor sax. It draws on 60s and 70s funk styles and sounds like it could be a TV theme from that era. As the piece progresses we enjoy an incisive r’n’b tenor sax solo from Law, while Stevenson’s guitar and guitar synth are deployed in both rhythmic and textural roles.

“Continental Drift” introduces a more contemporary feel, but without sacrificing the band’s innate sense of groove.  The sounds of the guitar and sax are subtly treated and there’s an ominous, urban feel to the piece that sometimes reminds me of the music of the Bristol based Get The Blessing.

The atmospherics continue on “Nightbus, 3 a.m.”, the evocativeness of the title reflected in a music that is simultaneously both threatening and relaxing. A relentless groove is topped by shadowy guitar textures and the lonely, after hours wail of Law’s sax.

Introduced by Baker’s drums and featuring Stevenson’s choppy, funky, James Brown style guitar “Previous” is more openly aimed at the dance-floor. Law’s punchy, rasping sax sometimes sounds as if it might be double tracked and Stevenson briefly cuts loose with a rock influenced guitar solo, as the faithful Scarr continues to lay down the groove.

The deep, dubby grooves and echoed horns on “Rico” suggest that the piece is a tribute to the late, great Cuban/Jamaican trombonist Rico Rodriguez (1934-2015). With its infectious grooves and Stevenson’s guitar synth sometimes replicating the sound of Rico’s trombone it’s great fun. A favourite at the band’s pre-lockdown live shows one would imagine.

Baker’s drums usher in “Kirby Muxloe”, a composition named after a village in Leicestershire. However with its rumbling, grooves, threatening guitar riffing and belligerent sax blasting it hardly conjures up bucolic images of rural tranquillity. Instead The Acid Drops get squarely in their listeners’ faces, with only the briefest of pauses for breath.

“Woodshed” is named for the London studio where the album was recorded and incorporates taut, funky grooves with the zap of Stevenson’s guitar synth and the echoed blasting of Law’s saxes.

“New Botanicals” builds upon Scarr’s mobile, propulsive and highly infectious Peter Hook style bass motif. Stevenson riffs powerfully, as well as adding colour and texture, while Baker’s drums continue to drive the piece forward as Law takes a comparative back seat.

Scarr is at it again on the more overtly funky “Blind Date at the Truckstop”, even stepping up to take a brief solo. Stevenson provides propulsive rhythm guitar, in addition to combining effectively with the ebullient Law.

“Photographing This, Photographing That” is credited to Stephen Laws-Clifford and the Acid Drops, but still fits neatly into the group’s overall aesthetic. Scarr’s loping bass motif locks in with Baker’s crisp grooves as Law and Stevenson surf the rhythms. Law solos on sax, followed by Stevenson on soaring, stratospheric guitar, but there’s plenty of characteristically chunky and funky riffing too.

The rhythm team of Baker and Scarr introduce “Euston Square”, presumably named after one of the band’s London haunts. These two remain at the heart of the performance, with the bassist briefly soloing as the piece embraces a brooding, noirish episode mid tune. Elsewhere there’s plenty of powerful riffing and brief but rousing solos from both Law and Stevenson.

The album closes with “Hell In A Handbasket”, a blistering slice of retro-funk driven by a walloping bass and drum groove and featuring a rich panoply of electronically generated sounds.

Stevenson, Law and Scarr all make use of an array of FX pedals, so the exact provenance of any given sound is by no means certain with this band. I’ve tended to give the credit to Stevenson, but this may be doing the others a disservice. In any event the use of FX and electronics to create colour, texture and ambience is a constant throughout the album, and adds greatly to the success of the music, imbuing it with additional layers of interest.

“When” represents a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. The Acid Drops are probably a bit too reliant on riffs, grooves and recurring motifs to really be considered a ‘jazz’ band and their music contains few orthodox jazz solos. As an album the recording also lacks variety in terms of dynamics and emotional light and shade. Nevertheless there are still plenty of excellent moments and much to enjoy.

While they may not appeal to the straight ahead jazz crowd their use of electronics to create colour and texture adds genuine interest to their music. But the jazz audience is not really what the Acid Drops are looking towards. With their rousing, funky grooves and their direct, riff based approach they are a band that is probably best appreciated in the live environment and “When” reflects this. Hopefully they will be able to get back to regular gigging some time in 2021. I like their collective energy and unpretentious approach. They are certainly a band that I’d be interested in seeing live, should the opportunity ever arise.

“When” is available via;

Also check out the band’s Facebook page;

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