It's elephant in the room time. Though no-one likes to mention it, experience shows that it's wise to approach any band led by a drummer with a degree of caution. Drummers are primarily involved with rhythma crucial component in music, but only one of several. Unless, like Art Blakey or Chico Hamilton, a drummer/bandleader has an empathetic composer/arranger to hand, the broader musical picture, including melody and harmonic structure, will inevitably suffer. Well, almost inevitably. But for every Paul Motian there are at least a dozen Billy Cobhams.
British drummer Martin France, leading his Anglo/Norwegian band Spin Marvel, is another exception to the rule. On Spin Marvel (Babel, 2007), and its follow-up, Spin Marvel 2: The Reluctantly Politicised Mr James, France has avoided direct engagement with melody and harmony and concentrated instead on what he does best, employing his band mates primarily as colorists or creators of atmosphere. The resulting music is rich enough to suggest melody and harmony without necessarily stating it explicitly.
Since his emergence as a member of Django Bates' Loose Tubes in the 1980s, France has acquired plenty of A-list collaborators he can call on for Spin Marvel. Both the band's albums feature guitarist John Parricelli, bassist Tim Harries and percussionist/electronicist Terje Evensen, and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer is added to the lineup on The Reluctantly Politicised Mr James.
Molvaer, firmly featured in his ambient-musing comfort zone, adds a marginally greater degree of melody to Spin Marvel's sophomore album, but the major difference between it and its predecessor lies in France's approach to rhythm itself. Gone, largely, are the thick waves of groove which periodically anchored Spin Marvel. Instead, France has focused more on free-time and rhythmic displacementstill approaching his kit with powerhouse energy, but eschewing the certainties of motor rhythms. He's a more than adequately inventive improviser to carry this off, and throughout the album's 36-minute playing time he is quite spellbindingly compelling.
France has been keen to emphasize the collaborative nature of Spin Marvel. He says that during the three year gestation of The Reluctantly Politicised Mr James, the mixes passed through the hands of all the musicians, in some cases several times. With a lineup of this stature, that's to be expected. But the considerable success of the album is very largely down to his own playing.
Personnel: Martin France: drums; Nils Petter Molvaer: trumpet; John Parricelli: guitar; Tim Harries: bass; Terje Evensen: percussion, sound-audio editor.