It's difficult to fathom a universe where someone would not enjoy listening to LEEF. One would have to be conditioned, Clockwork Orange-style, into finding the sound of musical instruments morally reprehensible. There's nothing on the Industrial Jazz Group's album that couldn't be embraced wholeheartedly by someone with an otherwise unrepentant disdain for all things jazzy.
It's fitting that composer, pianist and band leader Andrew Durkin (whose PhD is in English Literature) admires the work of Donald Barthelme, the late author known for verbal collage and whose wackiness did not contradict his status as a literary giant. LEEF's compositions are steeped in post-everythingisms, and what could have been a straightforward document of a May 2007 gig at Amsterdam's Bimhuis is given the collage treatment via musique concrete and other abstractive embellishments.
A strong melodist, Durkin knows which intervals, timbres, chord changes and style choices can maximize the elements of humor and surprise. The IJG's fifteen members execute those tasks superbly, tackling everything from polytonality and organized chaos to ebullient soul and dance-band schmaltz. It takes tremendously skilled players to navigate the wide terrain of charts like "Bongo Non Troppo" and the short attention span-friendly "Fuck the Muck" with such apparent ease. Jill Knapp, the group's outstanding vocalist, takes an engaging musical theater of the absurd approach to Durkin's sardonic lyrics.
The band shouldn't be disserviced by marginalization as comedy though, because the group aesthetic is that there is no group aesthetic. That being said, they function well as a party band, if that's desired.
But LEEF is as cerebral as it is silly, right down to its clever sequencing. Trombonist Mike Richardson's "Road Poem"alas, the lone track that feels a bit too in-jokey, like the "touring can make you crazy" satire of Frank Zappa's 200 Motelsis nevertheless a fine segue into "Big Ass Truck," a song that demonstrates that Durkin could be writing great pop-rock if only he had a narrower instrumental imagination. Elsewhere, chants of "Oh yes, I'm bad/Bad to the bone" (presumably by the trombonists) in "What's In Anne's Icebox?" lead into an allusion to a "guy with horns" in "The Job Song."
"The Job Song" will offer laughs to anyone who has pursued an artistic career against the financial advice of parents, teachers, andSatan? The moral is that doing what one loves yields rewards far greater than monetary ones; the song proves its own thesis beautifully (it hails from the band leader's days with another polystylistic group, The Evelyn Situation, which also featured Knapp).
It helps that LEEF's humor is self-effacing. Durkin is the Conan O'Brien of jazz, joking about the band's alleged lack of appeal when so much evidence exists to the contrary (Durkin's biography labels him a "hack composer and pseudo-intellectual"). During "Ladies and Gentlemen," Knapp sings of the band, "I hope you like them but I doubt you will." That's the most absurd idea on an album full of absurd ideasthe suggestion that anyone could dislike a band that's so overwhelmingly likable.
Track Listing: Ladies and Gentlemen; And Go; Don't Let 'Em Getcha; PDX LIX LAX; My Guitar; Bongo Non Troppo; What's Industrial Jazz?; What's in Anne's Icebox?; The Job Song; The Hotdog Hat; Howl; Big Ass Preview; Richardson's Road Poem; Big Ass Truck; Fuck the Muck (part one); Fuck the Muck (part two); Big Ass Truck (radio edit); The Job Song (radio edit).
Personnel: Beth Schenck, Cory Wright, Evan Francis, Brian Walsh, Katarina Thomsen, Josh Sinton, Damon Zick, Dan Boissy, and Ben Wendel: saxophones; Phil Rodriguez, Dan Rosenboom, Andre Canniere, and Kris Tiner: trumpets; Wolter Wierbos, James Hirschfeld, and Mike Richardson: trombone; Oliver Newell: bass; Dan Schnelle: drums; Jill Knapp: vocals; Andrew Durkin: compositions, conducting, piano.
Editor of the Clifford Brown video documentary Brownie Speaks, Brad Glanden holds a bachelor's degree in Music Composition from The University of the Arts--in fact, he holds it every night, while he sleeps.