Led Bib – Umbrella Weather – RareNoise

UK jazz-rockers Led Bib have it covered, from fear of crustaceans to bug invasions, and from shopping to cooking.

Led Bib – Umbrella Weather [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR071, 75:01 [1/20/17] ****:

(Mark Holub – drums; Pete Grogan, Chris Williams – alto saxophone; Liran Donin – bass; Toby McLaren – keyboards)

English jazz-rock combo Led Bib have jumped from the Cuneiform label to the likeminded RareNoise imprint, and the quintet’s notably noisy blend of jazz, rock, improvisation and other aspects continues to be an edgy and explorative endeavor. Led Bib’s heated electric jazz-rock is memorable for two primary reasons: they have a hard-hitting approach like some of the NYC downtown players, and they have a unique line-up consisting of two alto saxophonists (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams) alongside drummer Mark Holub, bassist Liran Donin and keyboardist Toby McLaren.

The twelve tracks on Umbrella Weather, the band’s eighth release since forming in 2003, are an often stormy (but also occasionally quiet) experience which showcases Led Bib’s keen collective improvisation skills.  Most of the material on Umbrella Weather was created spontaneously in the studio. Holub (who acts as the de-facto leader) explains, “In general, very little is written. We are mostly working in a typical jazz style of head-solos-head but in almost every tune the solos are completely open. This concept of free improvisation is a tricky one because it has become a genre all its own, but we are looking at it in a different way. With some of the tunes, we are sort of composing in the moment, rather than the sort of free association that is often thought of as free-improvisation.”

The fivesome begin convincingly with the off-kilter and raucous “Lobster Terror.” The tune starts with what sounds like large sheets of metal being aggressively whipped around by a giant. Then the group punches into a seething jazz-rock groove where anything seems possible and nothing is safe. Holub provides an unstable rhythmic foundation, while Grogan and Williams have an alto contest, and McLaren layers in nervous keyboard tiers. The second piece, “Ceasefire,” is not about a cessation of hostility, although it commences with a slow, melodic ambiance. The Can-meets-John Zorn creation, “Ceasefire,” builds with an almost creepy way until a heavy, krautrock-esque beat kicks in about two minutes into the 5:33 piece. McLaren supplies ghostly electronics while there is an Asian Indian sprinkle to the alto saxes. While most cuts are from five to seven minutes in length, Led Bib can make their boisterous timbre tight and compact. Jittery, two-minute “Too Many Cooks,” for example, has a convulsive thrust which starts and then abruptly stops.

Led Bib is best when they bring both energy and thoughtfulness into a cagy combination. The epic, ten-minute “On the Roundabout” launches with a defiant toughness, but within four minutes’ shifts to a meditative mannerism reminiscent of some ‘70s psychedelic rock. Led Bib being Led Bib, the expansive music never stays in one spot for long, and the extemporaneity heightens into a frenzied commotion where the twinned saxes, dynamic bass and drums and the underlying keyboards turn hyper-forceful. There’s a comparable mood to the nearly six-minute “Fields of Forgetfulness,” which has an ambient quality fronted by washed synth noises and lovely alto sax lines which are juxtaposed against a fuzzy electric bass and slightly unsettling percussion. The conclusion, however, is far more potent as Led Bib careens into a blistering wind-up. Other jazz rock cuts display Led Bib’s muscular might and intermittent moments of quietude, such as the ominous group jam “Insect Invasion,” which has a jazz/SF thematic undercurrent; the grooving, liberating “Women’s Power”; and the insurgence of the seven-minute “Skeleton Key to the City,” which is animated by Donin’s fuzz-drenched electric bass. While most of the CD’s 75-minutes of rebelliousness demonstrates Led Bib’s ability to explode out of the speakers, the band dials it down (but not completely, for sure) at the end with the zooming, waltz-like and aptly-named “Goodbye.” Although here, too, Led Bib foments an auditory upheaval where beauty commingles with menacing gestures: one minute serene and the next uncompromising.

TrackList: Lobster Terror; Ceasefire; On the Roundabout; Fields of Forgetfulness; Too Many Cooks; Women’s Power; Insect Invasion; At the Shopping Centre; Skeleton Key to the City; The Boot; Marching Orders; Goodbye

—Doug Simpson

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