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The Worst Pop Band Ever may not live up to its name, but this Canadian combo is working hard to produce some innovative sounds melding jam-band jazz with sound effects, courtesy of turntablist Leo37, on Dost Thou Believeth in Science?. The release features nine original compositions and makes use of Leo37's skills to varying degrees. Bassist Drew Birston and drummer Tim Shia sets up the soloistskeyboardist Dafydd Hughes and saxophonist Chris Galeadmirably throughout; the band has been together for awhile, and the members clearly know what they're after with their music.
Leo37 adds effects varying from white noise whooshes to recorded chatter over, on top of and throughout the band's performances. The effects create startling juxtapositions with the music at times (as on the opening track "House for His Heart"), but mostly seem to glide along, adding a little depth and dimension to the music. The band finds its groove by the CD's sixth track, Leo Shia's "V1," arranged by drummer/Barnyard Music label head Jean Martin. With a funky, Medeski, Martin & Wood kind of groove, the tune really captures the best mix of the band and Leo37's flavorings. Gale solos over an R&B-based bass line, with Leo37 adding scratches and Hughes supplying chordal lunges. But at just over two minutes, it's a too-brief taste.
"V1" is followed by a startling and sensuous take on Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "(They Long to Be) Close to You," with Elizabeth Shepherd adding a dimension strong enough to surpass Karen Carpenter's iconic version. At once wistful and intense, Shepherd's breathy take is perfectly balanced by the band's performance; tossing the conventional arrangement, the group chooses a free-form backing that further enhances Shepherd's vocals.
Vocals come back on the bluesy "Yesterday's News," with Rhonda Stakich crooning; Stakich's wavering vocals lead into Gale's soulful solo, and the two duet briefly for the close. The balladic "Pül" adds guitarist Rob Ritchie. Beginning with a slow-moving bass line, the band plays through choruses that stray further and further from the tonal center before restating the head with Ritchie's slight harmonic twist.
The musicians' firm grounding in hard bop and modern jazz is clear, and it's a pleasant surprise to hear the twists they take to engender faith in Worst Pop Band Ever's science.
Track Listing: House For His Heart; If Only My Name Was Steben and I Believed in Science; Man Down; Bonita; Minor Bruise; V1; (They Long To Be) Close to You; Pül; Bits and Pieces; Yesterday's News.
Personnel: Drew Birston: bass, weird vocalizations; Chris Gale: saxophone, weird vocalizations; Dafydd Hughes: keyboards; Leo37: turntables; Tim Shia: drums; Elizabeth Shepherd: vocals (7); Rob Ritchie: guitar (8); Rhonda Stakich: vocals (10).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.