Les Triabolques: Helsinki, Finland, November 23, 2010

Anthony Shaw By

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Les Triaboliques
Tram Workshop "Korjaamo"
Helsinki, Finland
November 23, 2010

For these three musicians edging closer to retirement, the chance of a European tour seems to have revitalized their creative juices. That their backgrounds include work with such rock headliners as Magazine, The Damned, The Mekons and, at least by close association, Led Zeppelin, might suggest they be excluded from the jazz fraternity—but with professional irreverence born of over 100 collective years in the business, they probably wouldn't wish to be a member of any club that would have them. However, on the evidence of their performance in Helsinki's most stylish venue, the depot sheds of the city-owned Tram Workshop's "Korjaamo Culture Factory," it can be strongly inferred that this is ethno-jazz.

Justin Adams is known for his work with Jah Wobble in the 1990s and, through much of the new millennium, his involvement on Robert Plant's solo projects. He has worked extensively as a producer, and was a strong supporter in the establishment of the Festival in the Desert in Mali. Adams' guitar probably owes as much to West African musical styles as to any other region, so it's no surprise that his route into this trio was somewhat similar to the routes taken by members Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds—via Mississippi delta blues. In sharing vocal duties with them, his center stage , world-weary voice fits seamlessly with the moan of his reverbed Gibson guitar, and forms the bedrock around which Les Triaboliques creates its self-acclaimed style of "river mud twilight" music.

However, it's river mud of a very European character—sparkly waters of the Eastern Danube mixed with the estuary blues, Thames-style, of Doctor Feelgood, with a dash of the Hudson, courtesy of Nina Simone's take of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," and a lot of Mississippi under the surface. All three Brits grew up during the musical excesses of the 1960s, cherished the ferment of punk in 1970s, and subsequently found substance in early world music of 1980s Britain, thus bringing them to a breadth of taste and experience that stands out in their repertoire.

Based solidly on the material on Rivermudtwilight (World Village, 2009), the live show added an element of spontaneity which is almost present, even in the studio sound. With Edmonds alternating between cumbush and guitar, and Mandelson between mandolin and solid bouzouki, the elements of an intercontinental string trio were laid down. While Adams and Mandelson swopped their offerings in the lower registers, Edmonds was free to exploit the sounds of his amplified cumbush, either stomping on the vellum, filling in with slide (played on either side of his fingers!) or playing straight runs on the fretless neck. Along with some wry songs, like Blind Willie Johnson's "When the War Was On," for his own take on the profanities of modern "Bagdad," his role was to play the fool to Mandelson's more straight-laced musicologist across the stage.

The range of influences looks irreconcilable on paper, but in concert they melded with the musicians' obvious enthusiasm for this pan-continental style. The show hinted at a traveling Sephardic troupe, with strong influences from the Mediterranean, and songs sung in Russian, Arabic, and even snippets in local Finnish. The act is truly a story of recent popular music from across the globe, almost a live encyclopedia of ethnic jazz.


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