Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Twelves - The Adding Machine ... and before?

Here's a first review of the Twelves (second) CD. I just wrote this review a few days after hearing the album and tried to capture my initial ideas on this very fresh sounding CD. As usual I then proceeded to refine (edit) the review for Free Jazz Blog (that I also write for) and ended up giving it 4 stars (the reviews not yet published). However, I still hesitate between that and an extra half (****½), but as usual time will be the wiser, and it will be interesting to see if the music will keep growing on each listen.  

Twelves - The Adding Machine (Babel Label 2011)

Mark Hanslip - Tenor Sax
Riaan Vosloo - Bass
Tim Giles - Drums
Rob Updegraff - Guitar

For those in the know, what's happening in the UK is probably one of the most interesting and diverse jazz scenes in Europe. Bands such as Polar Bear, Trianglehead, Outhouse, Nostalgia 77, MA, Led Bib or Troyka (to name just a few) are constantly coming out with music that blurs the lines between jazz, rock, free jazz and pop. Many of these young musicians have been brought up on the sounds of Jimmy Page's 'Led Zeppelin' and Derek Bailey's 'Company', whist still feeling the waves of Loose Tubes and the Jazz Warriors, all in all making for very diverse influences. 

One band that has been around for a few years is the Twelves, originally known as Twelves Trio. In 2008 the group (then a trio, of course) released the excellent 'Here Comes The Woodman With His Splintered Soul' (see below) - I was a few years behind and only stumbled across the album a little later via MySpace. In the meanwhile the group has moved on from it's initial format and has become a quartet with a more open approach to the music they play, crossing between open melodic free-jazz and some very driving rhythmic music, all of which centers around the interplay of the 4 musicians. This album is maybe a little more difficult to follow at first listen due to (seemingly) relatively 'less-catchy'(*) themes.  However, one finds oneself listening over and over again to the album as the music begins to work it's magic over you, each theme having a particular colour and atmosphere. 

Kerfuffle (Tk 4)

There's also Riaan Vosloo (bass) and Tim Giles (drums) heavily rocking grooves which swing like the clappers, or improvise together on the freer sections. One of the strong points of this band is it's ability to work rhythmically in a way that really opens up the music. Whether touching on free-ish jazz as on Spiders or Party Girls (both Hanslip compositions), or swinging on Kerfuffle, Eyeballing or Mr Zero, the group constantly keeps the music cooking by merging drum'n'bass, dub, free-improv, and straight swinging jazz rhythms together. Tunes such as Spiders almost boils away, guitar, bass and drums providing a turbulent undercurrent leaving the sax to weave lines which add colour to the whole. Many Splendoured  Thing (Pt 1 & 2) a two part suite opens the CD presenting two aspects of the group, a hard 'rocking' section which features the wonderful guitar of Rob Updegraff and a gentler section for the saxophonist Mark Hanslip who gently floats over part 2, like a modern-day Stan Getz. 

One of the highlights is Shallow Brown a traditional folk tune played in a beautifully open way.  Mark Hanslip treats the melody as if he himself were playing a tin whistle or bagpipe even, tremolo-ing by half closing the sax keys. The rest of the group gently supports the tune in a lovely rubato fashion, as I read somewhere, 'like a modern day Niama'. The group actually tackled a traditional tune on their first album in the same way, and it seems this is an area that Riaan Vosloo & Co are interested in, quite a normal step since jazz (in it's early form) is all about folk music, and blues is folk music. If you've never heard Paul Brady singing the likes of The Lakes of Pontchartrain, then you don't know about blues!! 

What more to say except, check it out!

And what came before ...... ?

Well, since we're talking about the Twelves I thought I might as well make a short presentation of the 1st album - Here Comes the Woodman with his Splintered Soul, which is a completely different cup of tea, but is quite definitely a logical forerunner to the newest album. Here the band played a more modern version of Coltrane's Crescent album, with plenty of very swinging tracks, but with a slightly harder groove to them (meaning a 2009 feel). They also add in another folk ballad into the mix She moved through the Fair which is treated as a rubato piece in much the same way as Shallow Brown. There's also an excellent version of Joe Henderson's Earth featuring Zoe Rahman to great effect. Listen (below) to Jiggery Pokery the first track on the CD, it possibly sums up the feeling of the group, which I read somewhere else as a modern day approach to Sonny Rollins trio. I'm not sure that's absolutely true, however it's a damned fine trio ...... even if it's a quartet! 

Here Comes the Woodman with his Splintered Soul - 
Twelves Trio (1965 Records - 2008)

Jiggery Pokery (Tk1)

(*) What's a 'catchy' theme? Actually I use this term to talk about musical themes that aren't immediate, or obvious on first listens. Some musical themes jump out immediately, such as good pop, others like fine wines, such as classical music, are to be discovered and savoured, often becoming very strong and personnel favourites.

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