London Brew: London Brew

Inspired by Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, London group play appropriately menacing music but with such as tuba and saxophone in place of trumpet

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Miles Davis’s ground-breaking Bitches Brew was first released on 30 March 1970. Fifty years later, a group of London-based musicians were preparing a concert in London’s Barbican to celebrate the event, but the pandemic intervened and the planned concert, a studio recording and a film about the band in rehearsal were all postponed.

Eight months on, just five days after the lockdown ended, the 11-piece band reassembled in a North London church reinvented as a studio, and in three days recorded this belated tribute.

The music itself, as performed by the band, is inspired by the legendary recording, but does not copy it. Instead, new, short musical phrases using guitars and electronics were fed to the musicians to use as a basis for their improvisations, the resulting music then mixed in the studio. Notably, in a tribute to a trumpet-led album, there is no trumpet in this line-up, the lead variously taken by two saxophones, tuba, assorted guitars, keyboards, drums and electronics.

What does come close to the original, however, mainly in the lengthy two-part title track, is the underlying sense of ominous threat and potential menace, of unexpected tonalities and electronic disruption. Out of the maelstrom emerge individual instruments, only to disappear again, each one jostling for attention, for this is a music in constant flux. But it also a music of underlying beauty, of quiet majesty, notably towards the end of both parts of the title track, where it gently echoes Bitches Brew’s predecessor In A Silent Way, and in Raven Bush’s violin soaring high in the wistful coda of Raven Flies Low.

While the introductory title track is slow, its second half opens in a furious flurry of electric guitars that give way to ringing keyboards and then stuttering saxophone interventions that repeat as if in a piece by Philip Glass. The remaining six tracks are all much shorter and, in the case of Miles Chases New Voodoo In The Church, much punchier. Notable are the short Bassics, at under three minutes a bass- and then tuba-led waft of atmosphere and occasion, and the stifled guitar lead and shuffling accompaniment of Mor Ning Prayers, one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Dense, intense, in places grand, and always utterly contemporary, this is an extraordinary tribute to a much-loved album. My fear is that it might be overlooked in the flood of new music, but it deserves to stand out proud in its own spotlight. A remarkable set.

Discography
CD1: London Brew; London Brew Pt 2 – Trainlines; Miles Chases New Voodoo In The Church (46.49)
CD2: Nu Sha Ni Sha Nu Oss Ra; It’s One Of These; Bassics; Mor Ning Prayers; Raven Flies Low (41.29)
Nubya Garcia (ts, f); Shabaka Hutchings (ts, ww); Theon Cross (tu); Dave Okumu (elg); Martin Terefe (elg, elec); Nick Ramm (p, syn); Nikolaj Torp Larsen (syn, mel); Raven Bush (vn, elec); Tom Herbert (b, elb); Dan See, Tom Skinner (d, pc); Benji B (decks, sonics). Crouch End, London, 7-9 December 2020.
Concord Jazz 00888072458697