Both brash and calculating, the international trio douBt (yes, the capitalization is in the right place) has set out to do what few these days outside of Medeski Martin and Wood has been capable of doing: bring the fury of a rock and funk-minded power trio to the nimbler vagaries of modern and avant garde jazz. On their sophomore release, they make a firm case for entry into that rare club. Belgian Michel Delville (guitar, synth guitar, sequencer), American Tony Bianco (drums, sequencer, samples) and Brit Alex Maguire (keyboards, sequencer) bring together experiences ranging from Hetfield and the North and The Wrong Object, to Elton Dean and Dave Liebman.
Perhaps a little less brash than their 2010 debut Never Pet A Burning Dog, album #2 Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love is also tighter, more diverse and taking more chances. The former album owed much to King Crimson, but it’s loose performances often threw off the vibe of a Crimson band that hadn’t rehearsed much, jumping right into songs figuring out the direction as they went along. At their best, they matched the power and fury of Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Mk I.
That’s not how most of the follow-up record progresses. Sure, there are vaguely structured, muscular and detached jams such as what’s found on “Jalal” and the title song, but even on those tracks there are advanced jazz principles being applied; Bianco is often the force driving the band toward a jazz orbit, even if that orbit is often wide. The freedom of the first album is channeled in other ways this go around, too, as in the ominous “Rising Upon The Clouds,” which creates the drama of an impending storm, and like early Weather Report, obliterated any separation between rhythm and melody, combining them together on equal footing.
The Jimi Hendrix cover of “Purple Haze” serves to make an important influence overt, but while Delville is faithful to Hendrix’s signature riffing on that song, Maguire is deconstructing the harmonic foundation and building it back up in a Canterbury way. The performance answers the question of how Soft Machine might have sounded with Jimi in their band, which would have made one hell of a combination. The Softs are further recalled with Maguire’s Mike Ratledge styled fuzzy Lowrey organ sound that churns alongside the furiously heavy guitar riffing “No More Quarrel With The Devil.” Delville indulges his Hendrix fascination further on “Tears Before Bedtime,” shaped by a gloriously distorted organ and an arena rock beat, in a song that ends way too soon. On the other side of the vibe is the sophisticated soul-jazz number “the Invitation,” where both Delville and Maguire deliver moody solos on guitar and analog synthesizer, respectively.
“Mercy, Pity, Peace And Love” is the album’s epic piece. The first half is devoted to painting discreet sonic imagery from a lo-fi electric piano sound as Bianco improvises expressively just under the surface. The second part emerges with swirling electronics and a faux piano soloing modern jazz stylings over Bianco’s restless multi-rhythms, and Delville’s legato lines that reference both Eddie Van Halen and Terje Rypdal. But the sense of adventure doesn’t stop there: “The Human Abstract” is a collision of 3 or more distinct strands, moving at different tempos. Swirling electronics, a faux acoustic bass pulse and loosely swinging drums envelope a howling, searching guitar trying to find its way through an audio blizzard. And finally, “Mercury” is a groove but in a rather eccentric way; Maguire’s piano improvises freely over a modern, odd-signature loping beat.
douBt distills an astonishingly wide range of influences into an album that’s unpredictable but also one that holds together well. Whether you want to call this prog rock, fusion jazz or whack jazz, Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love can also be called a major step forward in the evolution of a small band with big musical ambition.
Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love is set for release November 20 by MoonJune Records.