CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Le Rex – Escape Of The Fire Ants

Le Rex – Escape Of The Fire Ants
(Cuneiform Records Rune 464. Review by Peter Slavid)

The Washington DC based label Cuneiform has championed  avant-garde jazz, prog-rock and generally “difficult” music for over 27 years. Unusually for an American label it also includes a lot of European music in its back catalogue including our own Led Bib, Soft Machine and Empirical.

In 2018 they were forced to shut the label down for a period, for all the same well-documented problems faced by independent record labels everywhere. But they are back now with a fine set of new releases including this, the fourth album from Swiss band Le Rex.

The title track is a good example of the band’s style. There’s a strong brass driven groove to the music led by the powerful bass sound of Andreas Tschopp‘s trombone and Marc Unternährer‘s tuba alongside the thumping drumming of Rico Baumann. And then the music morphs into a delicate trombone solo, and then back into a groove. This is very danceable jazz with echoes of marching bands in some of the tunes. The band is notionally fronted by Benedikt Reising on alto and Marc Stucki on tenor although in reality all the instruments take their share up front as is often the case in a chordless band.

In the past Le Rex have recorded albums out in unusual locations and they see themselves as a street band that’s matured. This is a studio album but they have clearly tried hard to keep that street feel.

There are ballads too, and intricate arrangements which still leave room for solos. The track One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy sits over a slow tuba bass and develops a dramatic, almost menacing power out of which emerges a slightly spooky saxophone solo. In contrast the lyrical Elliot’s theme has the delicate retro feel of a swing band.

Other ballads such as Tschopp’s Ballad For an Optimist get subverted. While it starts with a lovely trombone melody, before long it turns into another dance party. Oddly it’s followed by the final track, Der Knochige Dürre which features the only appearance of some ferocious squealing improvisations from the tenor.

This is a band with a great sense of fun. Ideally you would want to see them on an open stage in the sunshine, or in a busy club with room to dance, rather than in a concert hall. They tour regularly in Germany and Switzerland and have had one large tour in the US and a shorter one in Ireland – but it would be great to see them here in the UK.

Meanwhile this album will hopefully form part of a revival in the fortunes of Cuneiform, one of the  great independent record labels.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations.

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