Monday, September 28, 2009

#94. Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin (V2, 2006)

One thing I regret about this list is that I haven't really had the time to delve into the annals of jazz, specifically free-jazz, that was released this decade. Ever since I got myself acquainted with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Alexander von Schlippenbach and later period John Coltrane - along with more modern practitioners of that style like Charles Gayle, David Ware and Tim Berne - I've developped a fascination with the genre. I'm not able to say I'm on the level of a true aficionado, can't make heads or tails of the modality changes and finer technical points, but I think of myself as more of an appreciator of what the lack of limitations can do for the style, provided the ensemble works well together. There are a few more jazz albums to come, but I wouldn't be surprised if after I do a full immersion into the music of the decade I come out with a much higher number of jazz releases among the final ranks. I'm already kicking myself for not getting around to stuff like Schlippenbach's Swinging the Bim and Bobby Previte's The 23 Constellations of Joan Miró soon enough to give them proper consideration and I'm all but certain that if I look deeper I'll find even more like them.

As it stands though there are three or four jazz records of varying stripe on the list as it stands, and of those Skinny Grin, Acoustic Ladyland's third album, is probably the most traditional. Now, if you've heard any of Acoustic Ladyland's stuff, 'traditional' is probably not the first word that would come to mind, but unlike the other few jazz records that tip both the familiarity and quality requirements I've half-assedly set out for this project it's easily the one that resides closest to 'classic' jazz. The difference between this and most straight jazz is that the quartet bring a great deal of intensity that puts a good half of this material in the realms of punk that happens to feature a saxophone. The quartet - saxophonist/vocalist Pete Wareham, pianist Tom Cawley, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Seb Roachford - play so well in the punkier millieu that it comes as a mild shock when the slow building, vaguely sinister groove of "Red Sky" comes along with its near traditional jazz structure and it becomes the album highlight. Similarly there's the Scott Walker produced "Salt Water" which builds to a frenzy with a measure of restraint that never appeared to be in the band's musical vocabulary a mere minute and a half ago when the title track tore up the surroundings. The band plays the angles between their jazz lineage and their punk intensity with a degree of skill that few outside the Zorn posse could manage.

Take opener "Road of Bones" for instance. It starts off as a contemplative piano solo piece, Cawley developing a nice, melodic theme for about a minute before the rhythm section absolutely crashes in with an absolutely huge counterpoint riff that sounds like it was taken from a particularly bright sounding sludge metal album. There's no transition from point A to point B, the piano theme even returns after the punishing rhythm bit with an added sax theme as if nothing happened, but when the two halves converge in the last few minutes its absolutely breathtaking. There are plenty of other moments that match that as the album progresses - the almost Truman's Water sounding interludes of "Paris," the off kilter circus punk melody of the chorus of "Cuts and Lies" - but none better illustrate how well the band fuse their two seemingly disparate sides to great effect. There's plenty of music that's referred to as jazz-punk, but few of those acts show as much aptitude with the jazz side of that equation than Acoustic Ladyland do.

Coming up tomorrow: The robots win, again.

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