Max Beesley’s High Vibes: Zeus

British vibist in LA with Steve Gadd, Christian Sands, Walt Fowler and others plies a tight, sinewy jazz-rock and acid-jazz line


Acid jazz was motorised music for dancing with listener potential. Think of a sweaty drum-and-bass club where you stop gyrating in order to hear what musicians and singers are doing atop the beat. It seemed like a throwback to the point in jazz history where dance music became music that stopped you in your tracks and made you sit down and tune in alone.

Listening to jazz as dance music in your own home makes you want to get up and move around. If you prefer to concentrate on the magical input of the musicians, as with this retro-acid album by vibraphonist Max Beesley, the weight of the percussive load can be a turn-off. You can listen to Gene Krupa and Elvin Jones but the kind of metronomic drumming in the Beesley album’s title track is monotonous.

Elsewhere the metronome is altered and interrupted, despite that ubiquitous sforzando on the third beat of common time, to herald creativity of the highest order. Beesley’s band released two 12-inch singles when acidjazz was frothing in the early 1990s. This is its first full-length bash, offered in all formats. It’s a gas, as they might have said 50 years ago, with the orchestral dimension always at Beesley the composer and arranger’s disposal, late riffing on Juice, for instance, and never allowed to smother the solos of Dean Parks’s guitar or Walt Fowler’s flugelhorn.

Saturn’s Dust is prefaced lyrically before erupting as funk, with brassy augmentation (horn arrangers: Nichol Thompson and Beesley) and solos by Beesley and Christian Sands on keyboard again free of unnecessary interference. That the motion’s the thing in this music, egged on by various soloists and prodding ensembles, is manifest on Sergio’s Bag, not so much a tune as a riffed motif on which Beesley brings various soloists together on route to clamorous intensity. Fire has Beesley himself racing away from the pack in Roy Ayers fashion, encouraged by brass goading. This was what acid jazz was like – and some.

(1) Zeus; (2) Snake Oil; Saturn’s Dust;Juice; (3) We’ll Always Have Yesterday; Fire; (4) Sergio’s Bag; (5) Ice (35.30)
(1) Beesley (vib, d); Jerry Meehan (b); Dean Parks (g); Christian Sands (kyb); Walt Fowler (t, flh); Mike Davis, Tom Walsh (t); Nichol Thompson (tbn); Luis Conte (pc). Santa Monica, Ca, January 2021. (2) as (1) Beesley (vib only), Steve Gadd (d) in. (3) as (2) but Beesley (vib, d), Gadd out. (4) as (3) but Beesley (vib, pc), Gadd in, Conte out. (5) as (4) but Beesley (vib, d), Gadd out, Conte in.
Légère Recordings LEGO 296