The children on this album's cover are shown enjoying a timeless street game. Such kids often play by their own rulesmuch like adult musicians, as Better Than TV proves here. A collective from Cambridge, UK, the band is led by bassist Sergio Contrino, whose Italian heritage finds an outlet on this eclectic disc.
Song From No Man's Land is aptly titled, with elements of klezmer, cabaret, Nordic dance and Dixie all merging into the jazz framework. cassie gorman's lead vocal brings a theatrical twist, as she tackles English, Italian and Latin lyrics with a flourish. "Before I Go" makes for a striking opening song with its energised percussion and rallying brass. "Standing With Sally" gives another zesty tune and snappy chorus, which then broadens out into wider improv. Each musician gets ample chance to shine across the album, with Contrino's pumping bass holding things in check.
Two trumpets, a trombone and a sax on board means you hear hints of Hypnotic Brass Ensemble in some slower sections. You might also catch the sophistication of Brad Mehldau, the genre-twisting threesome The Bad Plus, and Joshua Redman's gleeful strains. Which is not to tag Contrino's work as derivativehe is, after all, an associate composer at the London Symphony Orchestra's Soundhub project. But he likes to spice his broth with many flavours and creates a richly soulful brew.
Also impressive are the tone shifts within each number. Some pieces have more mood swings than a flighty teenager. Pensive piano lines, bruising ballads, lounge grooves, Latin airs and courtly chamber motifs are all here. "Da Iontano" draws on classic bop, just as "Gerico" offers a funky strut with flamenco strumming. The sax on "Norway" pipes up with sweet clarity and "Hey Joe" is a word-busy song that reflects the verbal barrage of election campaigns.
Having ironed out the sound issues that marred their debut effort, Better Than TV offers a tight and eloquent follow-up. On this evidence, Contrino's class act would be worth going some distance to see live. Song From No Man's Land is a hymn to this group's sheer vitality.
Before I Go; Gerico; Standing With Sally; Da Iontano; Latin Song; Norway; Für Louis; Hey Joe; Samba Per Mi; Bus Stop Blu; L’Attesa E’ Lunga.
Alastair Appleton: saxophone; Ben Comeau; piano; Cassie Gorman: vocals; Daniel Duffy: guitar; Gabriel Bliard: trumpet; Joe Davighi: drums; Louis Day: trumpet; Luke Congdon: piano; Rowan Haslam: vocals, cello; Sergio Contrino: bass; Simon Fothergill: trombone.