(Pokey Records PR001. CD Review by Jon Turney)
Pigfoot, Chris Batchelor’s unfailingly entertaining quartet, play other people’s music, taking great tunes from wherever they fancy. New sets often feature a single artist or genre. Or they mix them up – hence the Pigfoot Shuffle.
Their second CD is a sample of their repertoire, revisiting themes from Mozart, Richard Strauss, Wagner, Burt Bacharach, Elvis, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield. The mix is brilliant. Each piece receives exactly the treatment it needs, bringing out its essential qualities with unerring precision. Batchelor’s settings are anything but predictable. Mozart morphs into a township riff as if that’s what the composer really intended. Strauss’ Dance of the Seven Veils begins with a piano intro that could be solo Monk then turns into something that would fit perfectly into Ellington’s Far East Suite. Hound Dog was surely always meant to be a harmolodic romp.
His arrangements have been dubbed deconstructions, but they’re really not. Most are identifiable in the first couple of bars, and don’t meddle with the melodies. The jazz elements in these ten short tracks are closely bound up with the brio of the playing. Along with Batchelor’s varied voices on trumpet, regulars Liam Noble on piano and Paul Clarvis on drums provide a never-ending stream of invention.
In such a venture it’s vital to treat the source material lightly, but deliver it with complete conviction. Clarvis and Noble are masters of this, as on their decade-old duo CD of others’ songs, Starry Starry Night, or their more recent work in Mark Lewandowski’s brilliant Waller project. Noble finds new things to say about the most familiar lines, and Clarvis maintains irresistible forward motion, sometimes at implausibly slow tempos.
James Allsopp on baritone sax and bass clarinet joins the fun, replacing Oren Marshall’s tuba on the band’s first recording five years ago. As well as punching out bass lines, the greater flexibility of his horns allows plenty of counterpoint with the trumpet, and he has space for some steamy soloing. Noble’s use of 70s-appropriate electric keyboards on some tracks further broadens the band’s sound from their all-acoustic beginnings.
The results don’t sound like anyone else, though there are echoes of, say early Air playing Jelly Roll Morton and Joplin or some of Lester Bowie’s projects. Bowie, though, did sometimes push tongue too far into cheek. No sign of that here. Most will greet each tune here with a nod of recognition, then a smile. And to my ear every one matches, or even surpasses the original. Take the splendidly menacing version of Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, which definitely calls for cranking up the volume. I’ve not heard it in forty years. Omitting the risible lyrics to let the music stand by itself works so well there’s no temptation to go back to them. This wordless version will do very nicely.
And so will all the treatments here. If Batchelor ran a restaurant, critics would be describing small plates, packed with punchy flavours, using only the finest ingredients. Pigfoot will remind you of music you loved, and make you love it all over again. It’s the sort of artistic mission that could give jazz a good name.
Pigfoot launch the CD at the Vortex on 7 September.
Hear them play Black Dog on youtube HERE.