Living With A Tiger
, Acoustic Ladyland's fourth album, is the first to feature guitarist Chris Sharkey and bass guitarist Ruth Goller. They join with the founder members, leader and writer Pete Wareham on saxophone and drummer Seb Rochford [who are both also members of Polar Bear], to create one of the most distinctive and powerful quartets on the British music scene. This is loud, raucous, frenetic and inventive music that defies easy categorization, despite labels such as "punk jazz" that have been applied somewhat unimaginatively by some British media.
This album differs from third album Skinny Grin
(V2 Records, 2006) in its instrumentation, with Tom Cawley
's keyboards now replaced by Sharkey's guitar. It also moves away from Skinny Grin
's focus on songs, many of which saw Wareham taking lead vocals, returning exclusively to instrumentals. Living With A Tiger
is a ballad-free zone, but that's not to say that it lacks dynamics. Wareham plays his tenor sax, for the most part, in the upper reaches of its range; the instrument screams, screeches and shrieks, challenging Sharkey's guitar to respond. Sharkey is happy to meet the challenge, particularly with his punchy rhythm playing on tracks like "Have Another Go" and "Glasto." Goller's bass is wonderfully guttural and raw, especially on "Glasto" and "Living with a Tiger," lending a forceful contrast to the higher register playing of Wareham and Sharkey.
"Not So" is driven by amazingly fast and hard drumming from Rochford, underpinning the rhythmic pulse of Goller and Sharkey as Wareham's sax and then Sharkey's guitar create head banging riffs. The following track, "The Mighty Q," brings the pace down almost to a crawl, creating a slow and threatening pulse under Wareham's soaring sax. "Worry" begins at a similar pace, but the threat is replaced by a more introspective and emotive sax line, creating the most beautiful and restrained tune on the album. Even as the tension builds, Wareham's playing remains controlled, moving back in the mix as Sharkey's guitar sparkles into life and takes the lead, before returning to the front for the final third of the tune.
The overriding feeling that this album creates is one of sheer joy. The playing is powerful and energetic, the riffs are infectious and the performances are wild and willful. At times the music is a tad scary, at times lovely, at other times funky. It's music to be listened to, but it's also music to dance to. Living With A Tiger
is a fine addition to the output of one of the UK's best bands.