Review: Tommy Smith’s Karma / PELbO

Ine Hoem and Kristoffer Lo of PELbO at LJF2011
Photo credit: Sam Spokony/ JazzTimes

Tommy Smith’s Karma / PELbO
(Kings Place Hall Two, 19th November 2011. Part of London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Tommy Smith‘s latest band Karma opened this concert, drummer Alyn Cosker blasting in for a full-on assault. Karma – also the name of Smith’s latest album – sees the saxophonist in jazz-rock mode. Joining Smith and Cosker were pianist Steve Hamilton and bass guitarist Kevin Glasgow.

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Cosker provided the motive force – a powerful drummer, he’s equally adept at the slower, more subtle numbers which call for much more sensitivity. The set was equally balanced between rockier numbers and slower tunes infused with a celtic-folk sensibility. Smith played some exquisite soprano on the evocative “Land of Heroes”, mimicking Scots piping.

The band could lay down a good groove, too, Glasgow plucking the bass with his thumb to great exact. Smith sounded great on tenor as well a soprano – and he even played recorder on one tune. The alternation of fast-loud and slow-gentle tunes felt a little Jekyll and Hyde-like, but this was an enjoyable set.

The gig really got strange after the break though. I felt distinctly in the wrong place. Pelbo are not jazz; in fact they are about as not-jazz as it is possible for an avant garde pop band to be. This was pop stripped of any blues sensibility; the only jazz-like characteristic they had is that one of the trio played a tuba. Interesting as it was, it was more suited to a rave club than a concert hall, and was especially jarring after the jazz of Karma.

So it feels more than a little odd to be reviewing Pelbo for LondonJazz in the middle of the London Jazz Festival – but I have eclectic tastes, so here goes…

For three people, they create one hell of a sound. The dominant feature was the drums of  Trond Bersu, but it was a heavy, rich drum sound and he had the verve and technique to pull it off. Ine Hoem sang, using electronic loops to create choirs of soaring vocals. Kristoffer Lo also used electronics and loops to change the sound of his tuba, producing deep organ-like roars and rumbles: his tuba became the bass.

It was dark if energetic dance music, reminiscent of Mezzanine-period Massive Attack or, when Bersu was thrashing his cymbals, Spiritualised. Lo did some amazing things with his tuba, dancing manically around producing wailing feedback: “heavy metal tuba” are three words I couldn’t ever have imagined writing as a phrase – but that’s what it was.


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