As a followup to 2016's For King and Country, WorldService Project delivers another powerful punk-jazz manifesto with a sly grin on Serve, their second RareNoise release and fourth album overall. Showcasing their signature blend of discipline and chaos, the edgy London-based avant-funk quintet combines throbbing grooves, huge backbeats, grinding fuzz-bass onslaughts and ferocious free blowing on eight potent tracks, with just a dash of Monty Pythonesque's irreverence thrown into the mix. "WorldService Project is a very intense, high-energy live show," says keyboardist-vocalist and principal composer Dave Morecroft, who is also the creator and artistic director of London's Match&Fuse festival. "We throw ourselves into it and hope to come out alive at the other end. And if you're not bleeding by the end of it, you haven't tried hard enough."
You can feel that kind of intensity on the fusiony opener, "Plagued With Righteousness," the slamming "Dai Jo Bo" and the Zappa-esque "Ease." WSP offers pointed takes on Trump, Brexit and the state of the world on the cathartic, politically-tinged "Now This Means War," which has Morecroft delivering the chilling message in English, French, Italian and German. And the sinister Mr. Giggles, previously heard on 2013's Fire in a Pet Shop and 2016's For King and Country, makes a return appearance on the frightfully raucous "The Tales of Mr. Giggles." As Morecroft explains, "Mr Giggles is a clown character who has been featured in live shows since 2013. I adopt the character for a theatrical moment in the set, and it's gone down a storm particularly in other parts of the world (China, India, Japan etc). He is a mischievous character who may or may not eat children. I wanted to flesh out his story a bit more on this record, take the narrative surrounding him to the next level by addressing society, the 'norm', bullying, mental illness and so on." (Find the lyrics here: http://www.worldserviceproject.co.uk/who-is-mr-giggles).
Rounding out the WorldService Project cast on Serve are tenor saxophonist Tim Ower, who erupts with fierce abandon on "Runner" and "Now This Means War," trombonist Raphael Clarkson, who offers unbridled solos on "The Tales of Mr. Giggles" and "Ease," bassist Arthur O'Hara, who fuels these jams with his heavy-duty, fuzz-inflected lines, and drummer Harry Pope, a powerhouse player who grounds the mayhem with slamming authority while also showing his jazzier side on "Runner" and the haunting closer, "False Prophets." Morecroft offers a wild synth solo on "To Lose The Loved One" while providing multiple tones and textures throughout Serve. "I'm definitely into the idea of stretching the soundscape that one instrument can provide, in both pre and post production," he says. "I'm using a Nord Stage and Roland AX synth keytar on this album, and thats it! Compared to previous albums, I'm using more patches with different bases on the Nord with some Hammond, synth, Rhodes and Wurlitzer based patches appearing across the record. We did a lot in post-production as well, as the keys are often the instrument that give that 'base colour' to each track. We worked with (producer) Liran Donin on this record and he was fantastic in getting a great sound in the studio and then enhancing that in the mix."
Morecroft addresses the seemingly disparate qualities of discipline and chaos that emerge from tune to tune on Serve: "I think it reflects my personality to a great extent. Funnily enough, I've just moved my life to Rome from London, and the Italians are very into the Zodiac signs. It's not something I've ever subscribed to, per se, but I have to say that in this sense I am a true Gemini, split down the middle of my personalities! I do love this mix of tight ensemble discipline and absolute mayhem. I think the mayhem has been reigned in quite a lot since, for example, Fire in a Pet Shop. But it is still a feature of my writing for sure and comes out more in live shows."
Adds the WorldService Project leader, "I think it's always the balance that intrigues me; thinking with the head or with the heart, enjoying something as a musician or as an audience member, giving strict limitations versus freedom, democracy versus dictatorship. These subjects interest me by themselves, but it's also how/where/why one draws a line in the sand between the two things that I find most fascinating. Quite simply put, it's also life, no? We perpetually plan our lives and live in frameworks whilst relentlessly trying to live in the moment and take things as they come, more chaotically. I think to make this work musically I've always tried to think about the 'gesture' of each section, and find the purest form of that gesture for that moment in a musical form."
As for the tag of 'punk jazz' that has been associated with WorldService Project since their 2010 debut, Morecroft opines: "We've adopted 'punk jazz' because for us the 'punk' represents an adjective more than a genre. We are the punky, underground, do-or-die, DIY side of UK jazz for sure, and the music and the live show is also becoming increasingly more political/anti-establishment, so there is that too. I think generally people are moving away more from labels or genres on the whole I think, which I welcome. So, essentially, I'm happy for people to call it whatever it means to them! It's certainly provided some amusement for us in the past. WSP definitely began much more in the 'jazz' arena than it is now, and in a way I think this is what I wanted to form - a jazz quintet, but playing modern music that had a different sound. As time went on, I just reacted to my musical influences and what each member brought, and I grew in courage and conviction to do what we're doing now."
The band's flexible, turning on a dime nature is perhaps best reflected on the closer, "False Prophets," which builds slowly from an understated intro with drummer Pope displaying some sensitive brushwork against haunting vocals to a grandiose, pulse-quickening crescendo. "'False Prophets' is, for us, an incredibly powerful journey to go on, and in a way was one of the hardest pieces to get together," says Morecroft. "I think that 'turning on a dime' thing is something I've always admired in other ensembles, and again reflects some of my personal qualities, being a Gemini. I think the flexibility of the ensemble is also due to the fantastic musicians that they are. We all have a unique set of diverse influences, and in a way we've been teaching each other all of these on the road and at gigs for the last couple of years, which I think has resulted in this album. And all of the guys are open-minded musicians and incredibly talented, so I'm very lucky in that respect."
WorldService Project will be on tour in April and May through the U.K., Italy and France. And watch for an upcoming music video on "The Tales of Mr. Giggles" later this year. Meanwhile, savor the unexpected sounds of Serve on RareNoiseRecords.