@ Luminaire, London, 28 August 2009
can't be often that a Reuters film crew turn up at Kilburn's
intimate Luminaire, especially for what is effectively a
jazz act. But that's what the small matter of a Mercury
nomination can do for a band's profile.
quintet Led Bib's currency has sky-rocketed since their
Sensible Shoes album picked up the accolade as one of 2009's
12 Mercury Prize Albums of the Year. Yet it's become something
of an annual joke that the Mercury panel seem to pick a
'token jazz act' every year, and what goes with that is
generally a raised level awareness and increased album sales
but very little real chance of actually bagging the award.
So tonight forms a five-man attempt to break that hoodoo
as band-leading drummer Mark Holub and co showcase their
fourth album and use the opportunity to gain some rehearsal
time for their appearance at the awards show.
The band begin with an intensity that fades little throughout.
It's freestyle jazz but with enough form and structure underpinning
it not to completely lose itself in self indulgence. The
fleeting shared looks of recognition and respect on the
faces of the band make this seem like an entirely improvised
performance but it never descends into navel-gazing pretension.
Bass player Liran Donin is as adept at coming up with a
funk-laden riff as he is a hazily mellow, strummed bassline.
At one point one such horizontal bassline gradually builds,
inducing intricate solos from all band members in turn and
closed eyed reverie from one of the duo of sax players,
Chris Williams, before the music calms again to end.
The next composition is the antithesis, beginning with
a full-on blast to the senses, then calming before building
up once again via keys, drums, bass and twin saxes. Consumed
by the music and consuming each other's music, feeding off
it then feeding it back, Led Bib at their best are a jaw
Drummer Holub then announces they are going to have a run
through of what they plan to play for the Mercury show.
They are apparently given a paltry three-and-a-half minutes
for their final chance to impress the judges and, after
a manic tempo-shifting wigout is over, their dry run overruns
by a mere 15 seconds. Job done.
Williams is frequently lost in the music while keyboard
player Toby McLaren's head movements make him look like
a tongueless cat lapping at a bowl of milk, or a tortoise
repeatedly having a lettuce leaf offered to him then withdrawn
as he cranes his neck out of his shell and back again. But
these are merely signs of how much the five-piece love what
they're doing, a feeling shared by the crowd.
fact it's so intensely felt that it seems that this is not
just about playing music but a pure expression of the self.
At times manic, at times mellow, this is as unmanufactured
as it comes. The encore comes across like a free jazz version
of Motorhead's Ace Of Spades and the crowd
reaction is passionately rapturous.
Will the 'token jazz act' ever win the Mercury? It's doubtful,
but giving a talented band like Led Bib extra coverage could
never be a bad thing. Their music may not be understood
by the majority of Mercury judges or Joe Public; it's simply
not accessible enough. But while they may miss out on the
£20,000 prize, they've certainly gained enough exposure
to propel their careers to a level that will sustain them
and their engaging take on forward-thinking jazz for many
years to come.
Ian Roullier, 08/2009