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Sensible Shoes

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Album Review

Led Bib are explosive enough to blow up your speakers — after they've done a number on their own speakers, that is. The British quintet plays hot-wired electric jazz-rock with two alto saxes wailing over (usually) electric keys and bass plus no-nonsense drums — and, incidentally, drummer Mark Holub composes nearly all the band's material. Those saxes, belonging to Chris Williams and Pete Grogan and nicely positioned in the stereo field, are practically mirror images, matched in tone and intensity as they pair up in harmony, echo each other in counterpoint, or democratically divide up the soloing space. There's a '90s New York downtown feel to their tone, phrasing, and interplay, recalling in particular the two altos of Ned Rothenberg and Thomas Chapin in Rothenberg's funked-up Double Band releases on the Moers label. Yet Liran Donin's fuzzy rattling bass and Toby McLaren's burning Fender Rhodes truly differentiate this group from the pack — it sometimes seems like Donin in particular has decided that nothing could possibly elevate the proceedings more than playing through a demolished speaker, and McLaren makes the overdriven sound of Miles Davis' fusion-era electric keyboardists seem like George Winston. The opening moments of "Yes, Again" waltz darkly, offering few clues of what's around the corner: the brief assault of an angular theme followed by a squeaky buzzing and pounding blast of ear-shredding keyboard and bass driven by rock-solid rhythms underpinning those siren-wailing saxes. Tempos shift, constrict, and loosen as the band uncoils, only to tighten back into the theme and stop on a dime just as your neighbors shout at you to turn the stereo down. The playful two-note sax blurt beginning "Squirrel Carnage" is joined by the rest of the band's clipped phrases and fractured rhythms, suddenly overtaken by that thick fuzz bass and Rhodes as the energy builds and McLaren unleashes a frantic solo followed by squalling saxophone and an abrupt tumble onto a free-form plateau. Led Bib are not afraid to abandon the rhythm, as they do for a short spell here, but they also relish bringing everything back together, assembling compositional puzzle pieces and ratcheting the energy level up, slamming into a tightly focused finale.

In contrast, the comparatively gentle opening to "Early Morning" could soundtrack the first stirrings of wakefulness after the sun has arisen; there is space enough to slowly gather one's bearings. The sax harmonies are lovely over understated accompaniment before the keys' downward progression and rolling drums bring unsettling portents, and the saxophone burns increasingly hotter over a spacious slow vamp to the point of explosion — there is calm again at the conclusion, but this particular morning has ultimately entailed more than a relaxed breakfast in bed with a croissant and juice. The squelchy keyboard voicings accenting "Sweet Chilli" nearly mimic the sound of a squeegee on a car window, while "2.4:1 (Still Equals None)" slows to a crawl and then stealthily tiptoes through episodic stops and starts with fittingly spooky and spacy electronics in homage to BBC Radiophonic Workshop explorer Delia Derbyshire, while the album's most accessibly tuneful and uptempo moment arrives with Grogan and Williams' tight harmonies on the theme to "Call Centre Labyrinth." Led Bib let their pent-up energies loose with particular drama on album highlight "Water Shortage," which achieves nearly cinematic proportions as McLaren spins through cleanly articulated keyboard runs — with acoustic piano voicings this time around. And the nine-plus-minute "Zone 4," written by Williams, is an ambitious closer, with its nearly martial rhythm and angular themes ultimately building through the customary explosiveness to a stirring finale with heartfelt playing by the saxophonists, aiming for the heavens as the drums roll and bass and keys swell beneath them. Yes, Led Bib can certainly bring the skronk, but on "Zone 4" they also bring heart and soul.


Formed: 2003 in London, England

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '00s, '10s

British avant-garde jazz ensemble Led Bib are a progressive, stylistically varied group touching on everything from swinging post-bop to skronky free jazz and a healthy dose of neo-prog and noise rock. Formed in 2003 by drummer/composer Mark Holub (with the band's first gig in February of the following year), Led Bib also feature bassist Liran Donin, keyboardist Toby McLaren, and alto saxophonists Pete Grogan and Chris Wiliiams. Drawing on such inspirations as saxophonist Ornette Coleman, avant-garde...
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Sensible Shoes, Led Bib
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