In 2008, Twelves Trio released its debut album, the evocatively-titled Here Comes The Woodman With His Splintered Soul
(1965 Records). The band has since added guitarist Rob Updegraff, dropped the Trio appellation, changed record labels, and released album number two, the more prosaically named The Adding Machine
. The band's intention to explore, improvise and develop sonically remains strong on this release.
Twelves is one of a growing number of young British jazz groups characterized by technical ability and a willingness to transcend musical boundaries. Polar Bear
, the Kit Downes
and The Golden Age Of Steam all readily spring to mind; as does Compassionate Dictatorship
, a band that shares an identical instrumental lineup with Twelves, but uses it to deliver a punchier, more rock-oriented style of music. Members are often shared between these bands, with Twelves' drummer Tim Giles also in The Golden Age Of Steam, for example, while the musicians also collaborate in collectives such as Loop or F-Ire.
The band's sonic approach is a gentle one, characterized by subtle shifts in tempo, rhythm or instrumental emphasis. Tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip takes the greatest responsibility for lead lines, and has a soft-toned and, at time, surprisingly quiet style. The most intriguing tune on The Adding Machine
is "Shallow Brown," a traditional folk song recorded by Sir Peter Pears and June Tabor, among others. After Riaan Vosloo's languid bass introduction, Hanslip plays the melody in a similarly laidback style, underpinned by Giles and Updegraff's soft and fluid percussion and guitar. The band is almost in folk-rock territory here, the arrangement reflecting Fairport Convention's seminal recording of "A Sailor's Life" on Unhalfbricking
The rest of the tunes are originals. Hanslip and Vosloo are the band's main writers, but the packaging gives no clue as to who wrote which tune, and Giles and Updegraaf could well be involved too. "Kerfuffle" kicks off with a fine bass and drum groove from Vosloo and Giles, echoed in the entrance of Hanslip and Updegraff that follows. It soon slides into a darker, more fractured, sound courtesy of Hanslip's tenor, even though Giles and Vosloo keep up a more persistent rhythm. The dark side of the Twelves sound is also present on "Eyeballing" and "Mr Zero," although "Party Girls" shows its more humorous side.
Twelves is undoubtedly a band full of talented players, taking inspiration from some unusual sources and turning it into some complex but subtly nuanced compositions. At present, the band's sound may not be sufficiently distinct to make its mark on an increasingly crowded scene, but The Adding Machine
suggests that this is just a matter of time.