Hold on a minute, though – before you swoon in wonderment at my ability to defy gravity with a full-throated grasp of Matthew Herbert’s incandescent jazz style, it’s vitally important you know it’s not me singing. Not for more than a second in the middle of a track, at any rate.
Confused? Not if you’re familiar with Herbert’s methods of composition, as his second big band opus combines full brass section and pianos with his astonishing aptitude for sonic experimentation made good and imaginative.
One hundred voices contribute one hundred words in Knowing, each recorded by their owner and, in this case at least, softly sung into a Dictaphone in a South London kitchen at 2 in the morning, following clear direction from Herbert. Each word is cut and pasted on to the final picture, together with subtly muted trumpets and trombones.
It says a lot for Herbert’s achievement that this is some way from being the most innovative technique employed on the record. As if the whoops of trumpets on the fantastically affirmative The Yesness weren’t enough, he adds one hundred people of power braying their approval.
For power, of a specifically political kind, is the theme of the record, which is why some of it was recorded in the House of Commons, the British Museum and the Commonwealth church. The Houses of Parliament recording is rather sinister, when you consider each of the matches rattling in the corridors represents one hundred thousand Iraqi killings. Each.
These are powerful statements, backed up by full blooded music that occasionally overdoes the parody of an earlier 20th century big band style, but more than makes up for that by blending in modern electronic beats where appropriate.
Emotionally it’s heady stuff. The Story is a grower, refuting the notion that the day’s news is of any importance with samples of 140 copies of The Sun, 70 gossip mags, a copy each of the NME and Wallpaper and a Madonna album.
Some would argue that you need the liner notes with you, to appreciate all this and keep you abreast of where all the sounds are coming from. You don’t. While it helps to know – maybe puts the music in a greater context – if you’ve approached Herbert’s music before you’ll already know to expect the unexpected. If it’s your first time, use all the surround sound you have and revel in the power of free musical speech and a fantastic update of timeless jazz styles.