When a band decides to transfer the backbeats and looped riffs of drum 'n' bass or hip-hop to live instrumentation, it faces a crucial problem. No matter how precisely the live drummer lays down the backbeat, regardless of the bassist's tone, the band will be judged in relation to other live bands; the group will not be able to rely solely on the novelty of realtime performance if it wants to survive criticism. The compositions should reflect the advantages of human interaction.
With Making Bones, Red Snapper present a brilliant downtempo / drum 'n' bass album. The core trio of Richard Thair (drums), Ali Friend (bass), and David Ayers on guitar specialize in a form of layering based on tiers of riffs. On a track such as "Bogeyman", a backbeat and a handful of bass notes establish mood, tempo, and texture; a guitar riff (think the looping Eb lines on Miles Davis' On the Corner ) adds some sharpness or liquidity; and the layering proceeds from there, adding any variation of vocalist, trumpet, trombone, and cello/violin/viola. Several tracks reach a dynamic intensity through juxtaposing these layers of instrumental parts.
The only problem with this approach is its mundanity. Similar results could be, and are, achieved in-studio, using samples and synthesizers. I wonder if the "fuck-off jazz" moniker the band has adopted refers to a dismissal of flexible improvisation. Since Charles Lloyd, Cannonball, and Miles Davis began seriously combining funk and rock rhythms with advanced jazz, the best fusion has pushed the groove outward with bold arrangements and improvisations, allowing individual players to transcend the basic beats. Red Snapper rarely does this, and even the trumpeter changes his tone only slightly to give some tracks more dynamism. Before their next album, Red Snapper should consider ways to make great fusion, not just great electronica played on live instruments.
Track Listing: The Sleepless; Crease; Image of You; Bogeyman; The Tunnel; Like a Moving Truck; Spitalfields; Seeing Red; Suckerpunch; 4 Dead Monks; Quicktemper.
Personnel: Drums: Richard Thair / Double Bass: Ali Friend / Guitar: David Ayers / Trumpet: Byron Wallen / Vocals: MC Det and Alison David / Trombone: Jez Friend / Cello: Nadia Lanman / Violin: Jacqueline Norrie / Viola: Brian Wright.