(Vortex, 3rd May 2014. Final night of album launch residency. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Mark Holub sits behind his drums, grinning and waving at friends in the crowd. It’s the last show of a three night residency; the penultimate one of the tour (although they insist they’ve forgotten about the last one, so tonight feels like a finale) and the band look exceedingly comfortable snaking their way through the standing assembled at a capacity Vortex to take their places on stage.
And then it’s chocks away, flying straight into what we know to expect from Led Bib: energetic rock riffs with powerful, noisy improvisation. A strong structure underpins everything that happens, either the close interplay between the two alto saxophones of Pete Grogan and Chris Williams, or the pounding anthemic link between percussion and Liran Donin’s bass. Perhaps previously this was all they were known for, conveniently filed in the jazz-rock section of the library next to contemporaries Snarky Puppy and Polar Bear, as descendants of Weather Report or Zappa. But this tour, announcing the release of The People In Your Neighbourhood (reviewed here), shows they are capable of more textural depth and variation in sound than they have previously been given credit for. The first set of the evening has songs which schizophrenically alternate heavy crunching bass chords (Donin’s bass tuned down to accommodate muscular bar chords) with Toby McClaren’s sparse keys and double alto close harmonies. And it has slow burners, with one long patient crescendo being laid out by Holub’s tireless drumming and finishing with emphatic, abrupt climaxes.
While the music may be overarchingly intense, the inter-song badinage is its lighthearted antithesis. The childlike pleasure Holub takes in performing and the playful way he introduces band members is infectiously likeable. The songs aren’t fetishized with rambling back-stories or an unfailing attention to presenting the name of each before it’s placed: the audience are left to enjoy them as they come.
The post-interval set was was equally varied, with McClaren exploring different time signatures and knob-twiddling electronica, or switching seats from clean comping on the grand to murky organ bass lines and chords. Williams’ effusive style was left to develop with the structural support of Grogan, at times the two horns interchangeable and indistinguishable, and a brief bass-led dub charge near the end of the set kept the crowd on their toes.
As Mark Holub wrote in his tour preview for LondonJazz News, Led Bib launched their first album at the Vortex in 2005, the venue still very much in the process of its rebirth and feeling out its place in Dalston. While its programming and standing are evidently impressive and slick, it is still run by volunteers. Like the Vortex, Led Bib continue to develop over the years while maintaining their original hallmarks: Holub undeniably still leads the band from the back punctuating every change in tempo or mood, aided by Donin’s comfort in a very heavy groove. While the rock bookends for each song are still there – with the energetic start and cut-short finish – now anything else could happen in between.
The last ten years have seen them push at the boundary between improvisation and composition, musicianship and musicality. At their finest moments Led Bib verge on Bach’s baroque: complex scripted lines for each instrument, interwoven and climbing through each other to create an overwhelming rich soundscape. I hope their second decade together proves as exciting and fruitful as the first.