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Acoustic Ladyland at Vortex, London

Frederick Bernas By

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Acoustic Ladyland
Vortex Jazz Club
London, England
March 28, 2008

As the act which opened the new Vortex in 2005, Acoustic Ladyland holds a special place in the hearts of many club regulars. The band returned on March 28 to a full house of over 100 people, with the usual table layout abandoned to create an entirely different atmosphere.

A standing audience pushed the quartet to perform at its highest level. Saxophonist-turned-singer Pete Wareham looked the part in a white suit jacket and black skinny tie; he has appropriated the role of enigmatic frontman with relish and zeal. Many of the songs saw him switching swiftly between instrument and voice, and he had broken sweat within ten minutes. This conception of the sax taking the lead in a frenzied, punky setting distinguishes his tone and phrasing from any of his contemporaries.

The rhythm section was exciting, often unpredictable. Tom Cawley on keys was typically percussive, at times smashing down open-handedly in a seemingly random fashion or producing twisted impressions of a demented ice cream van chime. Seb Rochford and Ruth Goller (drums, bass) were as tight as one might expect from the band's recent gigging, even if the bass sounded a little quiet out front.

Over the course of three albums, the Acoustic Ladyland sound has become increasingly hard to define. Is it punk jazz? Is it progressive rock (albeit with no guitar in sight)? Is it pure avant-garde experimentalism? Wareham is reluctant to bracket the music into any genre, and it is easy to see why. The result is a group that can surprise and enlighten in equal measure and that will surely continue its rapid rise, most likely reaching cult status over the coming years.

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