Album Reviews

Led Bib – Bring Your Own

(Cuneiform) UK release date: 7 February 2011

The album’s title gives it away.�Led Bib ask a lot of the listener, and are not always accommodating hosts. Formed in 2003 as part of drummer Mark Holub’s MA project, the band came to wider attention as the “token” jazz entry in the 2009 Mercury Prize shortlist. This is their fifth album, and it confirms them as one of the most forceful and formidable jazz groups around.

In a sense Led Bib represent much of what is best about the current UK jazz scene.�There are parallels to be drawn with their contemporaries Polar Bear, also led by a formidable drummer and featuring duelling horns and sonic wizardry. Chris Williams and Pete Grogan’s bickering alto saxes have a harder edge than Polar Bear’s tenors, however, and bring out the aggression in Holub’s tunes as compared with Seb Rochford’s warmer, more melodic writing. Holub’s style as a drummer is closer to Chris Bussey of Leeds punk-jazzers trioVD.

“Jazz-rock” can be an offputting term and a vague one at that, splicing together two words each of which covers a multitude of styles in its own right.�But the phrase’s echoes of Tony Williams and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem appropriate for the ominous stormclouds of Toby McLaren’s Rhodes, and for Holub’s tendency to bring out a big backbeat at the climax of a song.�One of the key differences is that Led Bib’s 2011 production values avoid any “fusion” soupiness.

The Moth Dilemma opens proceedings with riffy, punky humour, breaking down into a childish taunt of an alto figure before Holub wrongfoots the listener by coming back in on an offbeat.�The skronky wonkiness of Little X is a highlight: described by the album’s PR as “a high-speed intergalactic three-part chase through airlocks, claustrophobia and sonar body scan clicks”, it begins with ominous distorted bass and Rhodes before bursting into a theme that pits funk horn lines against doomy chords.�After some great sax interplay, McLaren unleashes the full might of his knob-twiddling effects, the thick swirls of sound that are the unhinged heart of this record.

The tension and volume rarely let up.�Lower-key tracks such as Hollow Ponds and Service Stop Saviour have a loping film noir menace, all uneven metres and agitated cymbals, mere lulls before the roller-coaster goes over the edge again. Holub is always itching to let rip with a pounding beat, and everything leading up to this moment is therefore coloured with anticipation, like the build-and-drop structures of dance music.�Power Walking and Engine Room are full-on driving freakouts that live up to their titles; Shapes & Sizes alternates between a cheeky ambling bassline and a headbanging punk beat.�Walnuts stands out with its circus insanity that morphs into an Afrobeat bassline and then disintegrates into shrill gusts of Rhodes noise before the theme returns.�It has a 1980s New York Downtown feel, and could be straight from the pad of John Zorn (one of Holub’s key influences) or the Lounge Lizards.

The patchwork of styles and ever-shifting rhythmic feels makes Bring Your Own an intense and thrilling album.�The 51 minutes of unrelenting hyperactivity, however, gets tiring, especially when the themes are not particularly melodic or memorable.�There is also swagger to it all that suggests Holub and Led Bib are still, on their fifth album, trying to prove themselves. A little more space would have made for a more fully satisfying listening experience.

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More on Led Bib
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Track Of The Day: Led Bib – New Teles
Led Bib – Bring Your Own
Led Bib @ Ronnie Scott’s, London
Led Bib @ Luminaire, London