Marbin – Shreddin’ at Sweetwater
(Marbin Music. Album review by Rob Mallows)
What’s the expression: when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade?
Lockdown has given musicians around the world the mother of all lemon-flavoured hangovers this last year. Unable to fulfil their usually prolific touring schedule, Marbin has done the next best thing and recorded a live set for their legion of (largely US-based) fans.
How to describe Marbin’s sound? It’s a jazz-rock hard candy with a punk soft centre, dipped in funk and sprinkled with a whole lot of other stuff.
It’s a little hard to chew at times, and probably isn’t good for the teeth, but it’s energetic as hell and full of the sort of shot-in-the-arm grooves that are welcome in this current period of live music drought.
As befits a band that are apparently unsigned (their previous ten albums are all available through Bandcamp, however), there’s a satisfyingly lo-fi, DIY feel to this recording. What’s clear is that Dani Rabin on guitar, Danny Markovitch on saxophone (the two founders of the band back in Israel in 2007), Jon Nadel on bass and Everette Benton Jr on drums got rid of a lot of lockdown cobwebs in the Sweetwater studio.
Opener Messy Mark has a blues vibe cut through the centre and starts off at a hectic pace, while Whiskey Chaser is properly spiky stuff, with just a hint of a Kletzmer vibe; the band plays in a headlong rush right to the end of the track – they’re certainly chasing something! But then the middle part breaks down into some squeaky, pulsing sax-guitar interplay.
The band really does shred, and we’re not talking cabbage for a light coleslaw. It’s the ‘playing as many notes as you can in interesting ways’ kind of shredding. Almost to the point of just being too much on some tracks.
The rhythm section of Nadel and Benton is described in the promo as “hard hitting”. As understatements go, that’s like describing the recent snowstorms that recently paralysed much of middle America as “a touch of snow.” This is a .44 calibre Magnum of a rhythm section that shoots from the hip and isn’t in the habit of missing.
A track like The Old Ways offers some interesting harmonic progressions from guitarist Rabin, who gives his six strings a real workout, backed up by the more straightforward but nevertheless jaunty squawkings of Markovitch’s sax.
Escape from Hippie Mountain is all about the funk (screaming sax, slap bass, singing guitar) and is a helter-skelter ride of call & response and groove, which is pretty infectious, especially when it gets to the middle section.
The Way to Riches is 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds in a straight line with the handbrake on. Complex drumming, plenty of furious guitar with added reverb and choice riffage on offer by the pound. Whereas Breaking the Cycle is more measured, offering subtle hints of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir in the early exchanges between the band.
Arkansas Jumper is the jazz-rock equivalent of downhill skiing: furiously fast, dangerously close to the edge, and almost a blur for the listener as spectator. More worthy of a silver than a gold medal, there’s nevertheless something joyfully chaotic about it all. And it just never lets up. At all.
True, there’s not a lot of sonic ornamentation on this album and by track ten – Splaw – the band’s relentlessness, likely an asset on stage, palled just a little. However, it’s a reasonable simulacrum of what I imagine must be their fun live set. It reminded me that at some point, that excitement of seeing live music will surely be back in London.
Shreddin’ at Sweetwater has its flaws, but this outpouring of musical energy definitely offers fans of hyphenated-jazz something to get to grips with.
When musicians meet up after eight months apart, as this band did, they’re bound to have an excess of pent-up musical energy to spare. Boy, did they get rid of it on this album.
The studio walls are likely still reverberating.
Categories: CD review