May 27 2014
With the sound and enthusiasm of the Mardi Gras Indians as the source of their influence and spirit, the octet of Brass Mask brings together the traditional sound of New Orleans and the looser, forward-thinking qualities of the modern UK scene. The resulting album, Spy Boy, is music that emits all the euphoric warmth of the former and the cerebral inventiveness of the latter.
Songs like “Indian Red” and “I Thank You Jesus” predominate this album of hopping cadences, spritely melodies, and thick warm blankets of harmony. The former of those tracks possesses an old-soul blues that sings of life’s pain and joy, whereas the latter track is a slow blues roar straight from the church steps.
But this is not going to be a throwback album. The members of Brass Mask also participate in modern acts like Fringe Magnetic, Loop Collective, Dice Factory, Golden Age of Steam, Anthony & the Johnsons, Examples of Twelves… inventive ensembles which defy neat classification. So, a song like “Shallow Water,” which clearly embraces the spirit of the targeted New Orleans sound, is going to have circuitous patterns of development superimposed over its parade march cadence. Staking out similar territory is “Onnellinen,” but this time around, the octet only hints at New Orleans and instead suffuses the song with a soulful, shifting groove more reflective of the modern jazz that marks the UK scene of today.
Further evidence of this can be found in tracks like “Iksnal,” with its slowly drifting harmonies atop crisp drumming that’s more ambiance than song, and “Don’t Stand Up,” with its frenetic rhythms as the foundation for one nifty solo after the other, broken up by the occasional exhalation of harmony. “Francis P” celebrates its frayed ends and ragged edges, the melody sounding like a loose assemblage of spare parts and harmonies like duck tape wearing thin. It’s the kind of element that gives the album a necessary contrast to songs that typically flow together with a pleasing cohesion.
A personable album that offers up the right mix of accessibility and inventiveness.
Your album personnel: Tom Challenger (tenor sax, alto clarinet), Dan Nicholls (tenor sax, bass clarinet), George Crowley (tenor sax, clarinet), Alex Bonney (trumpet), Rory Simmons (trumpet), Nat Cross (trombone), Theon Cross (trombone), and John Blease (percussion).
Released on Babel Label.
Jazz from the UK scene.