Something Different: The Golden Age of Steam – “Welcome to Bat Country”

The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else, and which embrace the best qualities of creative vision.



Golden Age of Steam - "Welcome to Bat Country"This is one of those albums where it’s best to leave your preconceptions at the door.

Yes, the personnel section of this recording has several names firmly situated in the UK Jazz scene.  And, yes, Basho Records does cut its teeth as a label of modern jazz releases.  But just ignore all that.

It’s albums like Welcome to Bat Country by The Golden Age of Steam that serve as further evidence that the tag of avant-garde should be recognized as its own genre, and not as a sub-category of other genres.

This is not an avant-garde jazz recording, nor is it free jazz.  This is just plain ol’ avant-garde.

And it really doesn’t sound like anything else around.

Your album personnel:  James Allsopp (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Tim Giles (drums, percussion), Kit Downes (Hammond organ, Wurlitzer), with guests:  Alex Bonney (trumpet, electronics), Ruth Goller (electric bass), James Widden (violin, viola), Alison Holford (cello), Andrew Plummer (spoken intro on one track), and Freddie the cat (who purrs on one track).

I’m surprised this album doesn’t make me smile more than it does.  The album presents plenty of twists and turns.  The emotional spectrum isn’t vast, instead takes a connoisseur approach to how it demonstrates its evocative side.  The music is scattered, and rarely doubles back over the same territory.  This is the kind of music that really should make me smile.  But it doesn’t.

For what amounts to fun compositions, this is terribly moody music.  This is whimsical music of a serious nature.  Contemplative sections are accompanied by spaceship electronic effects.  Not long after the music gets the foot to begin tapping enthusiastically, the ensemble sneaks in and nails the shoe to the floor.  There are tunes that sound like carnival music for a circus populated by clowns that drink whiskey, never smile, and tell people to scram.  When sax wails, it sounds like moonlight, and it shines over a land that organ promises hides all kinds of monsters.  Blindfolded musicians unaffected by the lack of sight, because when interplay is everything zen, well, sight ain’t actually a prerequisite.  This is not so much an album of songs as it is a collection of disconnected sounds corralled into tunes.

And, really, that’s a big part of its charm.

An established groove crunches right along up until the floor drops off and the tune drifts away into a fading drone.  Distant voices and electronic blips walk through the same door at the same time as the fiery post-bop forms.  A swaying ballad suddenly spins in place and reveals itself to be a golem of underground post-rock.  Peaceful moments shouldn’t be relied upon, and unruly dissonance will eventually pass.

It’s not an album.  It’s a state of mind.

And thinking of it that way, well, now the music is making me smile.

Released on the Basho Records label.

Jazz from the UK.

Download a free album track at Bandcamp, courtesy of the artist and label.

Available at eMusic.  Available at Amazon: CD | MP3

And you can download an entire free jazz sampler at the Loyal Label bandcamp page.  It includes a track from the album, from other Basho Records releases, and other artists and labels involved in the UK Jazz scene.  It’s a great way to discover new music.