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Outhouse: Straw, Sticks And Bricks

Bruce Lindsay By

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Outhouse, part of the London-based Loop Collective, is an outfit that's willing to explore—and not just within the boundaries of jazz. After a trip to The Gambia in 2007, the band brought five Wolof drummers to the UK to record its second album, Ruhabi (Babel, 2010). For third album Straw, Sticks And Bricks the core quartet is joined by Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson who adds a chordal instrument to the Outhouse lineup and so takes the tonal qualities of the band in another direction.

The Outhouse style has been described as "fierce" and "thrashy," but on Straw, Sticks And Bricks the band is generally more thoughtful and considered. The music builds slowly, layer upon layer, creating a languid and oddly relaxing sound disturbed only occasionally by more intense forays into harder and somewhat darker sonic worlds. These disturbances are timely, arriving as they do before the more laidback passages outstay their welcome. Outhouse clearly has an understanding of dynamics that not every contemporary jazz ensemble is blessed with.

Robin Fincker—founder-member of the Loop Collective and of the band—and new recruit Tomas Challenger are the Outhouse front line. Mostly it's their twin tenors that lead the tunes but Fincker doubles on clarinet and it's the tenor and clarinet combination that produces some of the most distinctive music.

Bassist Johnny Brierley and drummer Dave Smith are at the music's heart. Brierley ensures that there's a solid, reliable pulse, while Smith skitters and skips, weaving constantly evolving drum patterns. In the opening section of Challenger's "Bleak Sylvette" their relatively sparse playing creates a mysterious pulse on top of which Finker, Challenger and Jensson add their own restrained yet scary phrases. Jensson's guitar playing is at its best when it's at its most controlled. His solos and lead parts are deftly played, no doubt, but it's when he joins with Brierley and Smith in developing the underlying atmosphere, on Challenger's spooky "We Need Two" or Fincker's tense "Luna Verde," for example, that he seems most suited to the Outhouse sound.

It's not all spooky and scary: there's a cheerier, brighter, side to Outhouse too. "Golfo" epitomizes this, with some bouncy rhythms from Smith and a rounded, warm tenor part. "Reverse" features Fincker on clarinet, his playful phrasing sounding like spring birdsong.

Across its three albums Outhouse has shown itself to be a progressive band in the best sense of the term—developing, moving forward, incorporating exciting new influences into its music. Straw, Sticks And Bricks is an imaginative collection that sparkles with energy and life.

Track Listing: Kitchen In The Middle; Bleak Sylvette; Fool; Luna Verde; Golfo; Reverse; We Need Two; Alignment; Long Notes.

Personnel: Robin Fincker: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Tom Challenger: tenor saxophone; Johnny Brierley: bass; Dave Smith: drums; Hilmar Jensson: guitar.

Title: Straw, Sticks And Bricks | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Babel Label

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