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The Blessing

All Is Yes


by Ian Mann

September 14, 2008


Explosive, energetic, enjoyable, essential

Named after an Ornette Coleman tune The Blessing have been around for a while but only released this, their début album earlier in the year. It made an immediate impression, culminating in “All Is Yes” winning the 2008 “Album Of The Year” at the BBC Jazz Awards.

This album plus the group’s dynamic live shows have seen them rapidly accrue something of a cult following with their appeal extending to both jazz and rock listeners.

The Blessing’s rock credentials have been well documented. Bassist and de facto leader Jim Barr and drummer Clive Deamer are both former members of Portishead and continue to collaborate with their ex band mates. The front liners saxophonist Jake McMurchie and trumpeter Pete Judge have more conventional jazz backgrounds such as former NYJO membership.

Released on Candid’s Cake imprint (also home to the Neil Cowley Trio) “All Is Yes” was recorded in Bristol where The Blessing are still based. In the main it is a ball of energy, compromising of high octane, riffy, rocky, song based pieces. In spirit it is remarkably close to the punk/jazz ethos of Acoustic Ladyland and despite the initial inspiration of Coleman The Blessing sound unmistakably English.

Above all it is fun. The gloom that colours much of Portishead’s output seems a million miles away from The Blessing. Indeed the group’s live performances are enlivened by Barr’s surreal and sometimes waspish sense of humour.

“All Is Yes” is full of rousing tunes and killer riffs. Barr’s distinctive bass guitar work merges rock power with jazz dexterity and he and the powerful Deamer comprise a formidable rhythm team. Judge and McMurchie play electrically hooked horns and colour in the spaces left by Barr and Deamer. They honk and squall both in tandem and in counterpoint. Like Barr they mutate the sounds of their instruments via the use of pedals and other electronic effects. There is very little conventional “jazz” soloing but this matters little as this is still exciting and exhilarating stuff.

Not that it is all hundred mile an hour crash and clatter. The lengthy “Loubia” demonstrates that the group are also capable of subtlety. It’s an atmospheric, middle eastern flavoured piece which also features the violin of guest Gina Griffin and the wordless vocals of Tammy Payne. It hints at possible future directions for the band to investigate.

The other tunes share a common attitude and superficially are all in the same vein. However there is enough variety in the writing to keep them interesting and strong melodies and memorable riffs are there in abundance. Highlights include the single “Bleach Cake”, live favourite “Suki’s Suzuki” and “That Ain’t It” which features a guest appearance from Portishead’s Adrian Utley on guitar.

It is interesting to speculate on the direction The Blessing will follow next. Another album in the same style would almost inevitably result in a critical backlash. Live the group already seem to be increasing the improvisational content and “Loubia” and hidden track “Small Fish Pond” suggest more acoustic avenues for the band to explore.

In the meantime enjoy this explosive début. It may not be a record for the purists but the energy and verve exhibited here make this essential and enjoyable listening.

Read about The Blessing live experience in our HSBC Brecon Jazz Festival 2008 coverage.

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