Last year's album by Acoustic Ladyland rightly picked up plaudits from all quarters of the jazz world, showing an inventive and accomplished band forging fusions of jazz with other popular music forms. During the year since that record, the band has been working and refining its sound, so much so that on recent London showcase gigs they risked blowing their audiences right back into the venue bar. A gritty, 70s fusion sound with distorted fender rhodes sounds to the fore combines with inventive use of material and some highly accomplished musicianship (particular from star drummer Seb Rochford) to make Last Chance Disco a real highlight among the jazz releases of 2005. Jazzwise's cover story on the band that ran in February quite rightly said that "All the rules have changed" in the contemporary jazz world and this album is comprehensive proof of that.
It was John Peel who observed that "Cowdenbeath nil, Stenhousmuir nil" is the most depressing phrase in the English language. That's as may be, but if you happen to take an interest in improvised music, "but is it jazz?" gives it a good run for its money.
Most often the assumption behind the question is if it is jazz then it's good music, if it isn't then it's bad. But, as much as we all love jazz, does anyone actually think that it's the only music that is worth anything? Time to move on. Jazz criticism isn't dead, it just stinks.
To see how out of touch this question is you just have to look at the music. Recently a British arts body set out to give development grants to Britain's most promising young jazz musicians. Of the eight they chose (including two from Acoustic Ladyland), only one actually described their music as jazz. What is going on here? Musicians notoriously don't like labels but perhaps there's something more. Maybe the word jazz has become something of a millstone round a rising musician's neck. After all, who wants to play a music in which Michael Parkinson is the most powerful man?
Enter Acoustic Ladyland, part of a growing scene of jazz musicians by background, but whose music is neither jazz nor non-jazz. Post-jazz you might say. Sister band to the equally excellent Polar Bear (with whom they share three members) they're key parts of the not to be underestimated London musicians' collective F-IRE, whose DIY, 'just get out there' ethic owes much to punk.
And it seems punk is also the vital musical ingredient in this new sound too. A little bit of it goes a long way in making the scales (and chords for that matter) fall from a jazz musicians eyes. Forget about the 'tradition' - here's improvisation with an Oedipus complex. While fellow travelers like The Thing, Spaceways Inc and The Bad Plus have been exploring their own skronk versions of The White Stripes, PJ Harvey and Nirvana, Acoustic Ladyland have penned their own blistering set and in Last Chance Disco, produced the first classic of the post-jazz movement.
Song titles like "Iggy", "Nico" and "Ludwig Van Ramone" leave you in no doubt as to what's ahead and just to make the point crystal clear the first track thrashes by in less than two minutes of turbo charged call and response riffage. Sixty minutes follow of life-affirmingly dumb shrieks, stomps and power chords. Not to suggest that there's no musical interest; Tom Cawley's fender rhodes on "Iggy" darts back and forth across the barline followed by Seb Rochford's stunning drumming just as if they were playing "Inner Urge". And on "Luwdig Van Ramone", saxophonist and bandleader Pete Wareham's solo manages to connect "Baker Street" with Josh Wink's "Higher State of Consciousness". What many a po-faced purist may dismiss as mere pop music actually is full of improviser's detail.
It's a music that contains just as much of early seventies free jazzers The Trio as it does The Gang of Four. What's more, like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis before them, they've fallen through to a whole new universe of grooves.
What really comes across when you listen to this landmark release though, is the almost palpable relief and joy of talented musicians finally letting themselves play what they secretly always wanted to. Shoplift this record, the criminal record will be worth it. --Russell Finch
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window