Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marius Neset Live @ Brighton Dome Studio Theatre 04/05/13

European jazz came to Brighton for the first day of the 2013 Brighton Festival. For the second year, Marius Neset and his quartet brought their modern sound to a packed out Dome Studio Theatre.

Performing mostly numbers from his latest album Birds, the selection of numbers showed off Marius’ virtuosity on both Soprano and Tenor saxophones in equal measure. The songs took inspiration from post-bop players such as Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker as well as classical music like Stravinsky and Steve Reich.

The set showed off Neset’s solo playing outside of the quartet too, as he explored he full range of the saxophone’s sonic range, from low, multi-tones through to piercingly high altissimo notes. The speed and accuracy of the playing was dazzling, performing complex passages with ease. Neset was also able to take a step out from the limelight, occasionally moving over to the side of the stage to allow the other members of the band to take priority for keyboard and bass solos.

The whole band really got into the groove of the music, giving an energetic performance, showing an improvisational ability and spontaneity which, combined with their togetherness as a group really showed the way in which the quartet reacted and interacted as a group.

If jazz and experimental, self-reflective instrumental music if for you, then definitely check out this young musician.

(Pic from

Marius Neset- Birds

This second album from rising Norwegian saxophone star Marius Neset show off all of the aspects of his playing and compositional styles which have enabled his ascent in the European Jazz scene.

On all tracks, the angular melodies, long, flowing runs and long, solo passages all flow smoothly frim under his fingers, whilst supported by an expert rhythm section. Neset’s Tenor and Soprano playing here alludes to his wide range of influences- from Michael Brecker to Stravinsky. The playing is inventive and experimental in places, whilst retaining a style which harks back to earlier players, providing a range of sounds and using repeated passages overlapped with each other to create exciting soundscapes- as can be seen from the immediately compelling title track Birds, which shows off all of the wide technical skills of Neset’s playing and those of his quartet.

The album contains a good balance of more aggressive tracks such as Boxing, and lighter, more flowing numbers like Reprise.

The invention and originality of Neset’s playing seems to leap out of the speakers and definitely compels you to listen to the album over and over again.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Skints, Is Tropical, Thumpers & Blaudzun @ The Komedia, Brighton 16/05/13- The Great Escape Festival

The first evening of Brighton’s Great Escape Festival was in full swing when the acts scheduled for Komedia kicked off their night. The sheer diversity on offer from one venue over the course of the evening was astounding, from folk-infused pop, to noisy punk-dance through to dub-reggae, there was something for everyone, and, as the ever-changing makeup of the audience suggested, each group had their own fan base out in force.

First up, representing Holland for the evening was Blaudzun, a seven-piece group who mixed folk music and instruments with uplifting pop melodies, to create an uplifting and joyous set. The group had obviously won some fans earlier in the day at a previous gig the played in the city, as many in the audience had been so impressed by the first show that they felt a second time was a must. Between the various members in the band, the range of instruments played was staggering, all of them playing at least two or three different instruments (mandolins, banjos, trumpets, accordions and electric violins were amongst the instruments which were brought out at one time or another.) The band’s sound varied from uplifting pop-ish tracks, complete with folk-dance rhythms, to lighter sounds which the various extra instruments gave interesting textures to- creating washes of music which flowed over the audience, creating an ethereal atmosphere. It is not hard to imagine, especially with the make-up of the contemporary charts, this band- the project of Johannes Sigmund, his brother, and various others- rising in fame and popularity, with many of the songs sounding similar to various tracks which have shot into the public consciousness on the back of advertising campaigns.

Band two was London group Thumpers. Their brand of safe, commercial pop which seemed to have less depth than a puddle in the desert, and seemed devoid of much in the way of meaning and thought, won them a small following. The tracks were fairly similar and basic, following more clich├ęs and set formulae than what constitutes “radical new music” than can be found in an issue of NME.

Next up, Is Tropical came to the stage in a blaze of distorted guitars, leather, punk-rock attitude and technical difficulties when it took a while for them to get their microphones to work properly. This additional frustration, however, seemed only to fuel further their angry mixture of rock and synthesised beats, which gradually increased as their curtailed set progressed. The trio, which was expanded by the addition of an extra singer for their final track, performed tracks which mixed thrashing guitar chords, brief solo passages and heavy drums with synth beats, meaning it took a short while to get used to their unusual sound, but once it was in full flow, it was hard not to enjoy their infectious grooves.

The final group was London dub-reggae outfit The Skints, on the first of their two Great Escape shows. The band’s urban, reggae sound, mixed with rapping and ska flavours has won them a large following over recent years, and the club was packed with a full audience, all skanking the night away. It was hard to remain still as The Skints’ upbeat rhythms kept up at an unrelenting pace. Three of the four members at various points took to the mic, each of them with a totally different vocal style, each of which perfectly suited the style of tracks they were singing- from melodious, slow dub-reggae, to rapid-fire ska to rapping over the Jamaica-meets-London mix. This melange of grooves and funky tunes made for a fantastic end to the night, far and away the best band on the bill, offering funky grooves and great sing-along tunes. (Although a brief attempt by an audience member at crowd at a stage dive/crowdsurf met with minimal success).

By the very nature of the Great Escape Festival, audiences are very fluid, moving from venue to venue to see different bands on different bills, which meant that the different groups and subcultures who flocked through the doors of Komedia on Thursday evening each brought with it a new atmosphere and a different energy- each in itself interesting to watch- giving the different bands appreciation. Although it would have been an interesting experiment to have the same audience stay in for all four of the evening’s bands, as at a standard gig as opposed to a festival event, to see what dynamic would emerge then.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House- Strong Place

The lines between composition and improvisation have always been ones which jazz musicians seek to blur- from the melodious lines of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, to the flights of technical expertise of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane- the improvisational side of jazz has always been important, and on this latest album from multi-national ensemble Anti-House, led by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, definitely adds to the blurring effect.

The tracks on Strong Place are a series of compositions which incorporate jazz playing with avant-guard techniques, and inflections of world music. The mixture of flowing melodies which seamlessly merge and combine with sometimes halting, stuttering rhythmic patterns and extended use of harmonies serve to accentuate the heavily improvised nature of the album and to make the individual tracks all distinct, whilst allowing a constant darker feel underlying the whole album.

The tracks are all of a length which allows all the members of the group space to play. This means that the album has a very organic, almost ethereal quality to it.

The musicians all make use of added techniques on their instruments, other than just playing normally- the guitar is played with the tuners, the saxophones squeak and rumble and the piano is played in a percussive style. All of this combines to make an exciting, eclectic and interesting collection of tracks.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Ant Law- Entanglement

Mixing a virtuosic technique which takes as much from rock shredders as it does from past masters of jazz guitar, Entanglement gives an interesting and exciting selection of tracks which show off a stunning array of styles and techniques. The album feels like more of a whole band effort at times more than a solo release, with guitars being used heavily for rhythm playing as well as lead lines.

Ant Law doesn’t hog the spotlight at all on various tracks other members of his group step up to the plate and take the lead- the sax is prominent on opener ‘Kanda Jhati’, while the piano offers a rippling wash of notes over the top of ‘Entanglement I- Janus and Epimetheus’.  Both these tracks offer different flavours. ‘Kanda Jhati’ in an unusual, groovy piece, feature swinging guitar and sax solos, whilst ‘Entanglement I’ is much more relaxed and has an ancient quality to it- utilising lots of guitar chords, wind drones and a more laid-back beat. The group nature of the album continues, with ‘Silver’ featuring a bass solo accompanied by minimalistic guitar chords.  

The way in which the album allows the whole band to stretch their musical legs through melodies and solos without keeping too much focus on Ant Law’s guitar gives it a much more rounded scope than is often the case with solo releases. When Ant Law is the focus, however, the playing is fantastic, a great young jazz guitar talent.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

CrashDiet, Jettblack, Sleekstain, Hell in the Club, Fallen Mafia Live @ O2 Academy Islington 27/04/13

Most tours have their share of ups and downs along the road. Tragedies and excitement usually come in equal measure, however on the last full night of CrashDiet’s Savage Playground tour, the unfair amounts of tragedy which had stalked this particular group of bands (The tragic death of CrashDiet’s manager barely a week earlier whilst looking around one of the tour venues) was evident in the atmosphere of the venue, but this didn’t prevent any of the acts from putting on a fantastic show.
First up on the bill were Fallen Mafia, a female-fronted hair metal act from Newcastle. This band gave a high energy show, full of motion and heavy riffs, which began the show with exactly what was to follow. Fallen Mafia churned out fast-paced riff after fast-paced riff, showing off their brand of hard and fast rock and roll.

Italy’s Hell in the Club were the next to take to the stage, showing off their own take on the much maligned genre of melodic glam metal. (for some reason these days known as “sleaze metal”) The songs were uniformly exciting, melodic and powerful, exciting the growing audience, and adding fuel to a growing belief that there is still a future for melodic metal. The band’s repertoire of upliftingly anthemic songs won them the audience, and it was evident from the sheer frenetic energy on stage that a good time was had by all.

Last of the “support acts” were French rockers Sleekstain and their brand of melodic, slightly dressed up hard rock. Supporting their new release Hard, Sleekstain’s balls-to-the-wall hard rock set included classic sounding driving riffs and ballads which made the audience reach for their lighters. The band’s tight sound brought a touch of a more classic heavy rock sound to the night, with more bluesy riffs and an exciting brand of rock n roll, as opposed to the hair-metal which prevailed over the night.

The penultimate band was London’s own Jettblack, mixing their heavy 80s metal riffs with a melodic edge, complete with a more rocky flavour (and a slightly mixed metaphor), they played a barnstorming set of catchy rock/metal numbers. Jettblack’s fans were truly out in force, with large numbers of the audience clad in their t-shirts, and chanting the band’s name long before they were due on stage, and long after they were off. The band were on top form, moving around the stage constantly, climbing up onto specially placed boxes for solos in order to make them stand out even more. The playing was all fantastic- riffs and solos all leaping out of the band like nobody’s nobody’s business. The highlight of the set was definitely the closing number, 'Raining Rock’ which had the crowd singing along the whole way through.

Finally, Crashdiet took to the stage, offering their high paced, high energy, high glam brand of punky hair metal. Playing a set mostly taken from their new album The Savage Playground churning out some fantastic melodic tracks which whipped the audience into a frenzy- starting up the night’s only mosh pits, and encouraging a (shortlived) bit of crowdsurfing from kids in the audience- coming before singer, Simon Cruz, climbed atop a speaker stack to stage dive as part of the band’s finale. The emotional significance of the gig on the band was clear to see, and the sheer energy and the way that CrashDiet played through the show. The crowd was, by this point, at capacity, and without exception, having a great time- all arms raised and jumping around as much as the space would allow. Track after track were fantastically executed, including a short bass solo which was full of a simplicity and tastefulness which went totally against any concept of a virtuosic solo segment. Of course their highlight track was the bluesy Cocaine Cowboys which shows off acoustic slide guitar playing as well as short bursts of harmonica before kicking in as a fantastically over the top hair metal anthem that simply oozes sleaze and hairspray.
The whole show was a brilliant, energetic, night of unabashed rock and roll.

 All photos (c) Nick Webb Photography 2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Voodoo Six- Songs to Invade Countries to

Modern rockers Voodoo Six have been championing a form of all-guns-blazing music which has been recognized by members of the rock and metal elite from Steve Harris of Iron Maiden to Mike Portnoy formerly of Dream Theater.

Songs to Invade Countries to provides a great balance between heavy, guitar based epics and melodic moments which show off a more light-hearted side to the band. The tracks also have a groove and definite blues-based kick which, along with the fantastic guitar solos, played with a gnarly tone shows how Voodoo Six are masters at a very traditionalist form of hard rock.

The vast majority of the album falls firmly into a category of earthy hard rock, which meld with groovy hooks to create a gritty atmosphere. The tracks are all strong rockers; riff laden and driving, which keeps the album moving forward without becoming repetitive.
The album perfectly shows off the musicianship and song-writing skills of all the band members, offering opportunities for all to shine.

Overall the album is a great rock and roll album which draws heavily on classic influences, whilst still managing to maintain a modern sound which allows it to fit in with the 21st century’s rock and metal scene without sounding outdated.