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Led Bib: Bring Your Own

Chris May By

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Writing about Led Bib's Mercury Prize-nominated album, the raucous and confrontational Sensible Shoes (Cuneiform, 2009), Britain's Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper—which speaks with as much authority about jazz as Murdoch's Fox News speaks about politics—declared: "Led Bib are the band bringing jazz back to contemporary music's cutting edge."

A slightly more measured response came from the Guardian's jazz critic, who described the album as "a gale of fresh air." All About Jazz observed that "the band continues its mission of taking jazz by the scruff of the neck [and] punching it in the face."

For all their faults, awards such as the Mercury Prize—which is riddled with weaknesses, beginning with a deplorable lack of transparency of process—do, at least, assist a band in extending its commercial reach. Along with the Sun review, Led Bib got, in 2009/10, a quantity of mass market print and broadcast exposure most bands can only dream about. But an award also presents a problem: how to follow it up. Dumb down and milk it? Or carry on following your muse regardless?

For Bring Your Own, Led Bib's fifth album and Sensible Shoes' follow-up, and another turbulent and in-your-face affair, the band has steered a middle course, carefully negotiating mammon while pursuing art. On the taking-care-of-business front, and in contrast to the first four albums, a producer with a rock track record has been involved: Head, who co-produced art rocker PJ Harvey's 2001 Mercury-winning, Island album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, is credited as "recording" the disc. On the taking-care-of-the-muse front, Led Bib continues to scramble dense, high decibel skronk, power beats and ostinatos, futuristic electric keyboards and fierce, free-tinged, jousting alto saxophones. Most of the tunes, also as previously, were written by drummer/leader Mark Holub.

Head has trodden lightly among Led Bib's trademark motifs, his biggest influence (if it is his) being confined to a general shortening of track playing times. These now average a fraction over five minutes, curtailing extended improvisation on all but the longest tracks. But, as tenor saxophonist Ben Webster said: "if you can't dump your shit in two choruses, forget it." And as soloists, Leb Bib saxophonists Pete Grogan and Chris Williams—passionately engaged though they always are—benefit from a little enforced brevity. Less so, keyboardist Toby McLaren, a more harmonically and texturally adventurous improviser, whose relatively extended solo on the 6:44 "Little x" leaves you wanting much more.

The main caveat with Bring Your Own is the same as it was with Sensible Shoes: Leb Bib is undervaluing its considerable facility with lyrical, reflective material. There are even fewer such passages on the new album than there were on the last. A little more light and shade would be welcome.

But that is to tinker round the edges. Bring Your Own is another, benificent hurricane of fresh air.

Track Listing: Moth Dilemma; Is That A Woodblock?; Little x; Hollow Ponds; Power Walking; Service Stop Saviour; Engine Room; Shops & Sizes; Walnuts; Winter.

Personnel: Mark Holub: drums; Liran Donin: bass; Toby McLaren: Fender Rhodes; Pete Grogan: alto saxophone; Chris Williams: alto saxophone.

Title: Bring Your Own | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


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