The Vortex, London
1 May 2014
Led Bib’s fractal jazz leaves Louder Than War’s Paul Margree tired but happy.
Over ten years and five albums, British jazz rock adventurers Led Bib have honed a distinctive maximalist aesthetic, combining the untrammelled euphoria of free jazz with a bluesy melancholia and bludgeoning rock assault. The results? Urgent and thrilling cacophony, dense like a cubist collage yet with shards of melody that shine through the intricacy.
Their latest record, The People In Your Neighbourhood, continues to push into the outer reaches, a joyful noise that grabs you by the ears from the opening bars of New Teles and gives your brain a good old rinsing right up until tidal surge of the final seconds of album closer, Orphan Elephants.
The band are celebrating a decade of pushing at the frontiers of British jazz’s abrasive fringe with a new record and a short UK tour which includes this three-day residency at Dalston’s rather bijou Vortex jazz club. Led Bib played some of their earliest shows here, so this is a homecoming of sorts.
The show is also being recorded for the BBC and the audience are invited to think up questions for the band, which will be posed the following day in an interview to accompany the broadcast. All of which made for an unhinged atmosphere, with a band hyped up and sharp from ten days on the road and a crowd who, close enough to see the whites of their eyes, were well into all the craziness.
Restless and eager the band tore through a selection of choice cuts from The People In Your Neighbourhood across two sets, interspersed with geeky, self-deprecating asides from drummer and percussion genius Mark Holub.
The twin alto saxes of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan were like a river bursting its banks on This Roofus, the tune’s quirky Cagney and Lacey-style overture soon shifting into a deeper zone and threatening to break apart before reassembling for the shrieking finale. Imperial Green’s drowsy swagger channelled the ghost of a New Orleans marching band, and Taste So Central drifted into a glassy post-rock territory, open terrain around which the horns can range wildly.
All of these songs were packed full of detail, yielding up more delights the closer you look – like some kind of musical Mandelbrot set. There are unexpected twists and turns, moments of stillness and changes of direction that seem impossible to achieve, yet are handled effortlessly by the band.
Take Giant Bean, for example. A howling, descending riff drops into a frenetic syncopated wail, before the bottom drops out and we’re floating in empty space with only a beautifully restrained sax motif and echoing keyboards to keep us company. How the hell did we get here? And, more importantly, how are we gonna get back? But then Holub picks up his drumsticks, bassist Lira Donin and keyboardist Toby McLaren exchange grins across the stage and we’re back in the room. What just happened?
But for me the highlight of the evening was the glorious majesty of Angry Waters (Lost At Sea), a distillation of everything that is great about this band. Driven by McLaren’s circling piano and keyboard motif – at the start resembling a deconstructed bossa nova riff then later re-appearing as a baroque-inflected keyboard line – the piece surged and swelled like some oceanic tempest before fading into silence, its energies spent and the audience exhausted yet exhilarated.