Live albums don’t usually work, in this writer's opinion. The mix is either wrong, or there’s too much distracting crowd noise, or everything just sounds too loud. Of course there are a few that work incredibly well - take 65daysofstatic on ‘Escape from New York’, Tom Waits with ‘Nighthawks At The Diner’ and or the almighty Miles Davis live document ‘Agharta’.
The latest Brownswood compilation ‘MV4’ has more in common with these, thankfully.
The album features a who’s who of UK underground music, including Joe Armon-Jones, Dylan Jones, James Mollison, Mutale Chashi, and Marijus Aleksa as well as guest spots from Fatima, Asheber, Nubya Garcia, Hak Baker, Oscar Jerome, and Bristol’s own Ishmael Emsemble; oh, and all deliver performances of their careers, to date.
The title gives away more than it should. Originally recorded live at London’s Maida Vale studio for Gilles Peterson’s BBC show on October 20th 2018, the show has gone down in folklore as an absolute classic. Peterson agreed and decided to release it on his Brownswood imprint.
The standout tracks on ‘MV4’ are Ishmael Ensemble’s ‘Tunnels’ and Joe Armon-Jones’ ‘Almost Went Too Far’. These tracks seem to typify everything that UK jazz is about at the moment. Both showcase prodigious playing and an ability to react to the simplest change in tone and pace.
‘Almost Went Too Far’ is the more conventional of the two. Opening with delicate piano before sonorous horns gently break. There is a slightly funky bassline that propels the band forward. The main horn hook is glorious, but it’s the piano solo a third of the way that really steals the song. It’s graceful but slightly ad hoc too. Here, Armon-Jones let’s rip and gets lost in the music. But this isn’t just noodling, he never wanders too far from the band’s groove.
‘Tunnels’ on the other hand is slightly more experimental. From the opening its builds layers of hypnotic synths, guitars, horns and drums that evoke peak-level Chemical Brothers. This is unlike anything else on the album. Through tweaking the textures of sound, and hazy horns, the Ishmael Ensemble are able to go off on a more electronic journey than straight jazz. The highlight of the track is when the band starts to go all techno.
Ultimately, ‘MV4’ is much more than a one off experiment – it’s essentially a time capsule, and taps into the spirit and ethos that surrounds Brownswood. Albums like this don’t come along very often.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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