Led Bib and Anthropods at the Vortex
The true finale to the 2022 London Jazz Festival was an evening of completely new music from the mind of New Jersey-born drummer, composer and bandleader Mark Holub, at his spiritual home in the newly refurbished Vortex Jazz Club.
The loveable Holub is a national treasure in both London as the leader of Mercury Prize (token) jazz Nominees in 2009 Led Bib, and also in his adoptive home town, Vienna, where he has lived since 2012, and where his new band Anthropods take an elevator over the hill and come down in a fresh place — though both bands are now deeply into the topography of the uncategorizable.
“Thanks for coming down to this festival of me,” he said, with that characteristic glint in his eye. The first set was his Austrian band Anthropods, presenting a new ‘Anthropods Suite’ of intense and skittish dark chamber music. Offering oblique concessions to jazz repertoire, it was firmly in a ‘new music’ paradigm, ranging from scratchy abstraction to drawn-out dissonances from skronky stomp to quiet moments of creeping menace.
The interesting formats of both Anthropods and Led Bib reflect Holub’s double nature often driving a forward rock beat but with the enhanced ‘jazzy’ detail, texture and complexity of his syncopated colorations on the kit. The interesting double format of the group brings the feel of intellectual chamber jazz with a rock attack, with whistling harmonics (*postscript) and strident bowing from violist Irene Kepl and cellist Celebs Sainitzer, Jakob Gnigler on tenor sax, and depping like a hero for Covid-stricken Susanna Gartmayer, the supremely talented Tom Ward on bass clarinet.
With moments of warmth and a sliver of a chill as the long tones bleed between consonance and dissonance, the music is at times almost austere but warmed by the thick textures of the strings and woodwinds. Then picking up a driving blasting Motorcity Psycho drive they let their sweet freak flag fly. Episodes of driving intensity and monster breakouts pare off into space and silence. They land down on a simple repeating three chord section that reminded me oddly of Basinski’s Disintegration Loops in their austerely beautiful decomposing maximalising minimalism.
Continuing and concluding the Festival of Mark, it was the mighty Led Bib, performing new material so new that none of the tunes had names. Over the years the quintet has honed something of an epic sound. Alongside Holub’s drumming, I once referred to Liran Donan as the “shoulder-popping neck-thwacking double-stopping badass bass-man from Led Beb (sic)”. While Polar Bear found their niche in super-strong thematic writing and improvising from two tenors, the melodic and compositional impetus in Holub’s and the group’s writing is driven by the duelling altos of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan.
To characterise their early style, which has continued notwithstanding their tilt toward darker material, I think of those strident and driving double sax themes. I’ve always felt that the theme to the long running BBC TV show Have I Got News For You would be perfect ‘early Led Bib’. Their 2019 album It’s Morning broke their mold, with slower material and even vocals, with not just a filmic sense but with every song being turned into films, which I saw them play live along to at round the corner from the Vortex at the Rio Cinema in Dalston. At this time the recent addition of pianist, electronicist and wizard Elliot Galvin was key, adding his magical harmony and crunchy outside dissonances and wacky sounds like fantastic freaky frosting, and making himself indispensable, and of a piece with the group’s subtle move away from rock.
They’re a band you do tend to nod your head slowly to, in that sitting-down person’s dignified variant of the headbang. Their journey is one from a kind of jazz rock to… a different kind of jazz rock. They’ve kind of got the niche to themselves now—bands like Acoustic Ladyland and trioVD have fallen away and Led Bib have kept going. Elder warhorses like Gong and Soft Machine seem to fundamentally retain the rock genre whereas Led Bib are somehow most at home as a sore thumb jazz group. The themes and the level of the playing are just a little more jazz-level somehow. But for all that, they still rock.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: Live review