There are probably scores of thrash jazz combos out there and when I’m of the right mind and the wife is not around, I can enjoy listening to every single one of them. Sweet Banditry is one of the latest such units to come around but the statement made with their debut release Farvefisen blomstrer (dedicated to Jens Jørgen Thorsen) shows they aren’t content to be just any kind of heavy improv band.
This is the brainchild of the husband-wife team of American bassist Tom Blancarte and Danish saxophonist Louise Dam Eckardt Jensen. Blancarte’s been in some notable bands, like The Gate and the Peter Evans Quintet but I’ll always think of him as the furious anchorman in the premier experimental power trio Totem>. Jensen has led Louie’s Spaced-Out Ensemble and The Home of Easy Credit, another project with Blancarte. But for their latest project, they corralled a couple members of Mostly Other People Do the Killing, drummer Kevin Shea (also of Talibam!) and guitarist Brandon Seabrook (who leads the Seabrook Power Plant).
So with a roster credentialed up to the gills in whack jazz wizardry, this was going to get unhinged without any special effort. However, Jensen herself thrusts this band into the outer realm of outlier music not by her sax, but through her vocals.
Some people are scary good singers, Jensen is just plain scary. Maybe it’s because I don’t know a word of Danish, but when she shouts, murmurs, seethes and growls in that language, not knowing what’s being sung and going just by attitude leaves it all wide open for interpretation. With her frightening voice — often channeled through effects that only amplify the fright — set against Seabrook’s heavy metal guitar gone awry, Blancarte’s frenzied bass attack and Shea’s relentless pummeling, Farvefisen blomstrer sounds like Halloween night times ten. When she hisses her lyrics provocatively on “Jeg elsker mig selv” she could have just as well been telling me she’s going to come slice up my entrails with a dull kitchen knife. On “Samfund – Og Hva Saa?” she bellows a harmonic pattern that’s different from the sinister one that is thrashed about by the band, but it’s just as sinister. “FY SKAM JER!” is the closest Sweet Banditry comes to being melodic, as Jensen sings like the relatively tame Grace Slick amidst Seabrook’s shimmering guitar, Shea’s tumbling-down-the-stairs drums and Blancarte’s direct bass figure. But then she creates loops of vocal fragments that create frightening sonic backdrops.
Though Jensen is the obvious star of the band, in truth, everyone plays crucial roles in making this band so fierce. Take the opener, “Charlotte”: Blancarte’s lumbering, circular bass shape announces the contour of the tune, but Shea’s volcanic drums and Jensen’s exhortations reveal a rock topography. Soon, Seabrook is competing vigorously for shredding space as Jensen’s sax meekly nudges itself into the mix, a stark contrast to her increasingly shrill vocals. Pretty soon the whole rumble is entering John Zorn’s Naked City territory. The song does come to a soft landing, but a spooky ambience remains. “Drone War (My Life Is More Important Than Yours)” has no lead vocals, but the dense, scattered mess of guitar, bass and drums is the cut most like Blancarte’s Totem>.
Still and all, Jensen as the provocateur at the center of these satanic sonic storms makes Farvefisen blomstrer unforgettably jarring in a way that mere instruments can’t do. I’d recommend giving Farvefisen blomstrer a good, loud listen but not right before going to bed. Otherwise, sleeping might be difficult.
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