Easily the most adventurous and audacious outfit on today's UK jazz scene, Led Bib has built a reputation over the course of seven albums for expansive improvisations and treks into genre-defying music of throbbing intensity. All Music Guide called their singular brand of jazz "explosive enough to blow up your speakers" while The Wire weighed in with: "This is the sound of a band having fun...like a hot chainsaw through butter." For their RareNoiseRecords debut, the five-piece group from London continues pushing the envelope on Umbrella Weather.
Fueled by the muscular drumming of ringleader Mark Holub and the intense fuzz bass lines of Liran Donin, further tweaked by atmospheric washes and crunchy keyboard action from Toby McLaren and sparked by the pungent twin alto saxes of Peter Grogan and Chris Williams, Led Bib stakes out a unique spot in the musical terrain that falls somewhere between the realms of John Zorn, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, all imbued with a very strong jazz-rock sensitivity.
From the odd-metered opener "Lobster Terror" to their raucous textures on "Too Many Cooks," from the fuzz-inflected mayhem of "Skeleton Key to the City" to the turbulent "At The Shopping Centre," the expansive 5-minute ambient jam on "Insect Invasion" and the surprisingly lyrical waltz-time closer "Goodbye," this renegade outfit never fails to inject an element of surprise into each potent track. And while certain pieces like "Ceasefire", "The Boot" or the groove-heavy "Women's Power" may seem like well-crafted and tightly executed compositions, Holub explains that most of the music heard on Umbrella Weather comes about organically in the studio through a keen sense of collective intuition honed over the past 13 years of playing together. "In general, very little is written. We are mostly working in a typical jazz style of head-solos-head but in almost every tune the solos are completely open. This concept of free improvisation is a tricky one because it has become a genre all its own, but we are looking at it in a different way. With some of the tunes, we are sort of composing in the moment, rather than the sort of free association that is often thought of as free-improvisation.
Led Bib formed in 2003 as Holub's Master's degree project at Middlesex University. "We went through quite a few different people at the very beginning, but by the time of our first release in 2005 (Arboretum, SLAM Productions) the line up was set and hasn't changed since," he explains. Holub runs down the backgrounds of his Led Bib colleagues:
"Chris Williams is perhaps the most involved in the 'jazz' scene of all of us, though this is definitely more on the contemporary side. He is a founding member of Let Spin, a key member of Laura Cole's Metamorphic.
Liran Donin works a lot as a producer outside of Led Bib working both in Jazz, but also in the realms of Pop and World Music, most notably recently with Namvula Rennie, Mulatu Astatke, Arun Ghosh and Chrissie Hynde.
Toby McLaren is working as a producer, mostly in the rock world. He also plays keyboards for The Heavy, a sort of soul rock band that does quite well in the USA. He seems to be over there all the time these days!
Finally, Pete Grogan plays with the Alex Horne and the Horne Section, The Brothers Ignatius, The Heavy, while doing session work with Ed Sheeran and scoring and arranging music for a Roald Dahl film well as playing lots of sessions in that genre."
Holub's own penchant for playing rock influenced jazz, or vice versa, came about over time. As he explains, "When I first started playing jazz, I was coming more from the sort of jam band/experimental rock stuff.... Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart. And then I got more into the free jazz of the '60s, particularly Ornette Coleman, but also Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.
The two-alto frontline of Grogan and Williams is perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of this punk-edged jazz group. "The idea came about just by chance," says Holub. "Someone suggested another alto player and I thought, 'Hey, two altos! That could work!' I think I liked the sort of 'ugly beauty' of that combo. There is something harsh about having the two altos together, which is great for when the music is heavy. But also, there is something almost bittersweet about the crashing of timbres between the two of them in the quieter moments.
Since its inception 13 years ago, this forward-looking jazz unit has evolved to the controlled cacophony and 'ugly beauty' that we hear on Umbrella Weather. "Over time I think Led Bib has moved quite far away from my original vision," says Holub. "It has become very much a group project with it being as much influenced by the other guys' interests, but I am still steering the ship. To me, that is what has made Led Bib special, that the sound has been a natural evolution, which has naturally taken on everyone's ideas and influences rather than something which has been pre-determined to sound in a specific way."