Led Bib – The People in Your Neighbourhood [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform – Rune 378, 72:21 [5/13/14] ****:
(Mark Holub – drums; Liran Donin – bass; Toby McLaren – keyboards; Pete Grogan, Chris Williams – alto saxophone)
The British avant-garde jazz ensemble, Led Bib, swings from progressive rock to modernistic post-bop to touches of skronk-jazz on the band’s fifth studio outing, The People in Your Neighbourhood. Fans who have discovered the neo-prog/jazz group, formed in 2003 by drummer/composer Mark Holub, know the quintet’s approach is to shift, mix and blend influences, leading to frequent surprises. On Led Bib’s latest 72-minute release, the fivesome does not deliver any divergences from what they’ve done in the past, which is good news, but they do advance and stretch their eclectic style into something compelling and instilled with inspiration.
Holub began as Led Bib’s primary composer, but here there is a higher degree of democracy. Holub penned six of the 11 pieces; alto saxophonist Chris Williams wrote two; bassist Liran Donin did two; and second alto sax player, Pete Grogan, created one. Keyboardist Toby McLaren is the only musician who did not add to the writing process. There is another perception of commitment shown, as well. The album title refers to the online community which donated money to carry this project to completion: the extensive contributors list is found in the liner notes, while their professions (from archeologist to advertising executive) grace the front cover.
The band opens with Williams’ “New Teles,” which starts with swirling and swooping keyboards and a definitive two-sax scrimmage: the twin-tiered saxes produce a generous, brassy sound which makes it seem like more than just two are performing. Donin’s deep, hefty bass riffs, McLaren’s prog-rock keys and Holub’s punchy drums give this tune a rock stance which should delight hard fusion aficionados. The feel of misplaced ‘70s music being unearthed is stronger on Holub’s “Plastic Lighthouse,” which has a tone akin to Soft Machine or Van der Graff Generator. The nearly seven-minute cut commences with a humorous intro that is bouncy and light, but a weightier aspect rapidly launches, with McLaren’s distorted Rhodes riding a groove, while Holub goes all out on his drum kit, and enthusiastic saxes bleat, honk and riff on the upper periphery. The band traverses a drone towards the end, and the comedic head comes back to bring it home. Grogan’s “This Roofus” has a similar structure. The beginning has a witty jingle-ish theme, but “This Roofus” quickly veers into a tougher, edgier piece which twirls with turbulence. This is an effective example of how Led Bib can walk the fine line between tight finesse and wonkier, freer moments with equivalent calculation. Holub shows his gentler side on the anthemic, almost eight-minute “Recycling Saga,” which has a plaintive characteristic which purposely proceeds and is highlighted by McLaren’s acoustic piano fills, Williams and Grogan’s elegiac alto sax notes and Holub and Donin’s moving rhythmic flow. The repeating motif escalates to an energetic conclusion where the tune’s simmering flame erupts into a final, fiery passion.
Donin, too, exhibits his melancholy mannerism on the moody “Angry Waters (Lost to Sea).” The onset has a wistful timbre which could easily be utilized in a movie about a man alone on the ocean, like Robert Redford’s enigmatic protagonist in the film All Is Lost. But soon after, Led Bib erects a cascading construction filled with pointed sharpness, intensifying acceleration and rougher terrain: no longer warmly aquatic, but definitely heated and fuming. Holub’s “At the Ant Farm” does the reverse. It gets going with Holub’s rushed, bustling drums and McLaren’s likeminded keyboards, with the doubled altos helping build an animated activity, and then the tempo suddenly abates. Donin’s spare bass locks into a duskier, solitary ambiance which is enhanced by a single, forlorn alto sax and Holub’s skittish cymbals. The number’s last half returns to a louder and roused arrangement which is spontaneous and expansive. The People in Your Neighbourhood finishes with Donin’s ominous “Orphan Elephants,” a woozy, dub reggae excursion which favors a Radiohead-esque alt-rock tendency which fits Led Bib’s wide-ranging methodology: not quite jazz, not quite rock, but the best of both.
TrackList: New Teles; Giant Bean; Angry Waters (Lost to Sea); This Roofus; Recycling Saga; Plastic Lighthouse; Tastes So Central; Imperial Green; Curly Kale; At the Ant Farm; Orphan Elephants.
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