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Compassionate Dictatorship: Cash Cows

Bruce Lindsay By

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Compassionate Dictatorship inhabits a musical space where modern jazz and '60s-era Canterbury scene progressive rock meet. It's a strange space, ready to trap the unwary in a muddle of English whimsy or to reward the more enlightened with warm melodies and inventive but accessible tunes. Compassionate Dictatorship is an enlightened combo and the reward is apparent on Cash Cows.

Cash Cows is the band's second album, following Coup D'Etat (FMR Records, 2007). Both albums share the same line-up—although drummer Ben Reynolds has since been replaced by James Maddren—but while the debut album was certainly enjoyable and inventive Cash Cows has a more refined feel to it, with both writing and playing showing more focus.

Compassionate Dictatorship has been compared to Anglo-American outfit Partisans, and there is certainly some similarity beyond simply the shared instrumental lineup. However, Compassionate Dictatorship has a gentler, more romantic, sound than Partisans, with the rhythm section of Reynolds and bassist Jasper Høiby generally favoring a more laidback and lyrical rhythmic style compared to the drive of Partisans' Thad Kelly and Gene Calderazzo.

The band's frontline of guitarist Jez Franks and saxophonist Tori Freestone both approach their instruments with precision. Franks' guitar playing is clean and assured, whether he's playing fluid single-note runs or rich chordal accompaniment. Freestone plays tenor and soprano saxophones—her full tenor tone contrasts well with the brighter sound of the guitar, while her soprano playing is consistently beautiful.

Franks' "Emotional Baggage" exemplifies Compassionate Dictatorship's gentler—more compassionate, indeed—sound. Franks' guitar and Freestone's tenor deliver a beautiful and melodic central theme over some admirably restrained and sympathetic work from Høiby and Reynolds. Freestone's soprano comes to the fore on the lovely "Alien Landscape" and Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." The band stay close to the Mitchell classic's melody, as Freestone weaves deftly in and out, creating and relieving tension as she goes. "Mr Mish Mash" is an altogether more raucous affair as any tune inspired by meeting an annoying jazz fan at a Bulgarian festival should be, although even here the band calm down for a soothing few bars.

Cash Cows is a fine album of delightful tunes, excellent playing and tremendous warmth. If there was any financial justice in the world of jazz the album's title would not be ironic—but for now the members of Compassionate Dictatorship can rest easy in the knowledge that they have created one of the most engaging albums of 2010.

Track Listing: Mushroom Effect; The Winkel Picker; Alien Landscape; Mr Mish Mash; Computers; Six Degrees; Emotional Baggage; Both Sides Now.

Personnel: Jez Franks: electric guitar; Tori Freestone: saxophones; Ben Reynolds: drums; Jasper Høiby: acoustic bass.

Title: Cash Cows | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: FMR Records


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