Review: Compassionate Dictatorship at The Spin, Oxford

Compassionate Dictatorship
(The Spin, Oxford. 11th July 2013. Review by Alyn Shipton)

The new CD by this band Entertaining Tyrants on the Jellymould label is an attractive album that shows plenty of progress from the group’s previous records Cash Cows and Coup D’Etat. At its core is the musical connection between the edgy tenor saxophone playing of Tori Freestone and the chattering guitar of Jez Franks.

Between them, they composed the repertoire for the disc, which ranges appealingly from the introspective balladry of Franks’s Sit Tight to the mounting tension of Freestone’s fusion-y Pottering Around. On record, Freestone’s bleak tone and purposefully meandering style (reminiscent of the late Fred Anderson at times) is forward in the mix, and Franks’s fidgety guitar lines coupled with the always compelling bass playing of Jasper Høiby create a sort of saxophone sandwich, with a calm inner core surrounded above and below by more mobile string patterns.

Hearing the same repertoire live, with Loop Collective bassist Dave Manington playing in place of Høiby, this effect surfaced again from time to time, notably in Freestone’s In The Chophouse, but too often the saxophone was so far back in the mix as to reflect Freestone’s diffident stage presence in the music itself.

Even in the intimate setting of the Spin, the band lacked the strong ensemble sound of the record, and indeed much of the gutsy confidence of the disc. The only player who played with total surefootedness was drummer James Maddren. Propelling, supporting, adding texture, changing colour while maintaining pulse even at the lowest volume, his playing was a delight, including some extrovert solos which strayed way across the beat, yet anchored by a Blakey-esque hi-hat that never wavered.

At its best, the band has a distinctive collective personality, and much to commend it. Neat touches of arrangement in and out of head sections, clever layering of tempi (Franks’s Bubble and Squeak was particularly effective in this respect with a slow melody unfolding over a more active rhythm) and the tonal distinctiveness of the guitar/tenor voicing are all positives. But after a lot of touring earlier in the year, when a live set in a well-established club with a keen audience doesn’t quite match up to an album, something, somewhere isn’t quite right.

Categories: miscellaneous

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