Gig review: Roller Trio/ Colin Mills’ Mendeleev Quartet

Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham UK
29-05-2013

“…you will hear gospel, and rhythm and blues, and jazz. All those are just labels. We know that music is music”. So said Jesse Jackson at the 1972 Wattstax Music Festival (later memorably sampled by Primal Scream).

More than eight years ago now, a new wave of British jazz musicians were challenging preconceived ideas of what jazz should sound like. Drawing on free jazz, rock, funk and punk attitude mixed with electronica they had critics asking, “is it jazz?” and searching for a label. “Skronk” was one of the labels that didn’t stick. Well, one of the chief proponents of this unclassifiable music, Acoustic Ladyland, are no more, but bands like Led Bib, Trio VD and now Roller Trio, the latter two both from Leeds, are taking it to the next level. Although it seems the critics still haven’t found a satisfactory pigeonhole.

James Mainwaring on tenor sax and electronics, Luke Wynter on guitar and Luke Reddin-Williams on percussion were performing new material together with some tunes from last year’s Mercury Music Prize nominated debut album, on the F-ire label, at the Hare last night. These fresh-faced twenty-somethings, who met while studying at Leeds College of Music, exhibit a diverse range of influences from Anthony Braxton to Queens of the Stone Age.

First up though, was the Birmingham-based Mendeleev Quartet led by self-effacing baritone saxophonist Colin Mills with Matt Ratcliffe on keyboards, Chris Mapp on electric bass and Jim Bashford on drums. Dmitri Mendeleev was the inventor of the periodic table and this new quartet attempts to evoke similarly complex patterns.

Over the course of five tunes (or ideas, as Mills refers to them) all kinds of mysterious and cosmic sounds emanated from the quartet. Languid spiritual-sounding baritone, filtered through an effects pedal, created an almost eastern feel at times. The highly resonant, menacing bass and atmospheric effect-laden keyboards were, at times, reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra. The final spacey tune left the room pulsating like the mothership attempting to lift off!

Roller Trio opened with the first track from last year’s album. Deep Heat featured jabbing sax with underlying eloquent guitar, at times filtered through an array of effects, and concise rock drums. The tense-sounding Roller Toaster slowly unfurled with a foreboding tenor which became increasingly magisterial as Wynter’s Spanish-inflected guitar picked up pace alongside Reddin-Williams’ authoritative percussion. This was definitely one of the highlights for me. A new tune (titles are yet to be given to much of the new material) quickly followed with a playful start leading to phenomenally heavy drums and screeching sax with a stop-start conclusion. Another new tune Splinter featured lyrical, emotive sax over a brooding guitar and boisterous drumming.

The cocky and pugnacious Howdy Saudi came out of its corner sparring away with some deftly targeted punchy drum beats and it wasn’t long before the metaphorical kitchen sink got thrown at the audience with stormy guitar and wailing sax at full stretch. The stuttering squawking sax on The Interrupters led into some intense, edgy percussion fuelling a popping and fizzing sonic rollercoaster ride, rapidly followed by a meditative piece with muscular expressive blowing and weighty percussion.

The next tune opened with a shuffling rhythm, effects-treated sax and tightly-controlled drums moving forward to a frenetic free-blowing section before returning to the opening shuffling sax and a pyrotechnic percussive conclusion. A spikey-sounding tenor got the next number underway, and it soon escalated into cathartic full-blooded blowing. The single encore started in delicate wistful-sounding territory then shifted to jerky guitar-sax interaction before stretching out into full-throttle blowing and finally returning to a wistful conclusion.

Roller Trio put in a tight, exciting and highly energetic performance. It’s the sheer variety of the emotions their wide-ranging material evokes, effortlessly shifting from the meditative to the visceral, which is so compelling. And they still don’t have a label for it!



Categories: Live review

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