Not many bands trace their origins to a thesis, but Led Bib started out that way by its drummer and lead guy Mark Holub and they’ve been in rare company ever since. That’s because their music is better described in visceral terms than in genre terms: unbound, crunchy, freaky, unpredictable and often LOUD. It’s pretty safe to say they are on the jazz side of things simply because improv is their game, but good luck trying to place them in a certain spot inside that big tent.
Their uniqueness also stems from how the band is set up: around Holub’s drums you’ve got a fuzzy, metal-ly bass guitar (Liran Donin), distorted keyboards with occasional weird synth-y sounds (Toby McLaren) and to balance out the low-end crunch, there’s an alto sax (Pete Grogan). No, make that two alto saxes (Chris Williams, too). Add to that some modern, indie rock sensibilities, and you got something roughly resembling Kneebody, though nobody including them fronts a band with two of the smaller reeds.
After a four album run on the well-regarded progressive music outfit Cuneiform Records, Led Bib makes a leap to the hometown, London-based Rare Noise Records, and their seventh long-player Umbrella Weather (January 20, 2017) is the first offspring from that relationship. Still using the same lineup as their 2005 debut, Led Bib’s got the telepathy thing down. So much so that these dozen songs largely composed in the studio have the feel of songs that were contemplated long before then, even when accounting for the organic flow and fearlessness with which they play.
“Lobster Terror” takes flight from sheer nervous energy, an alto sax playing freely, joined by the other one and only after they’ve nearly exhausted themselves do they happen upon a melody. Another go at sprinting across the scales is cut short by an abrupt ending. “Ceasefire” starts off slow and sullen but if you think the boys softened up for a wimpy ballad, think again. It keeps gaining momentum until reaching full gallop by the end. “On The Roundabout” goes much longer than the other songs because they’re stretching out more; like a suite there are moments of charging ahead and moments of portentous contemplation but flowing with some sense of purpose. Donin’s bass often assumes a rhythm guitar role in guiding this jam through the mood changes.
Holub plays the power rock drummer for “Fields of Forgetfulness” as the song picks up steam, but the harmonizing between Grogan and Williams is worth checking out, too. The pair interacts also creatively on the head sections of “Insect Invasion” and even more so for the free improv part as a monster groove brews underneath. “Too Many Cooks” could be called metal jazz even though there’s no guitar; it’s all about the attitude they bring to it. Same goes for the good ‘n’ grimy “Skeleton Key To The City” which rocks as hard as Black Sabbath. Holub devises a rolling groove for “Women’s Power,” bolstered by an imposing bass from Donin. A fuzzy, fonky bass line along with Holub’s nimble trap kit work powers “At The Shopping Centre,” which features a lot of McLaren’s plucky keyboards.
The parting shot “Goodbye” is the most melodic tune of the whole bunch, making good use of the double sax attack to sketch out that melody.
Umbrella Weather will never be mistaken for Heavy Weather but that doesn’t mean Led Bib isn’t making their own statement about how to mash together jazz with rock. And as loose and randy as the music may be, it never loses its soul.
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