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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Alabaster DePlume - Gold (International Anthem, 2022)

Every few years, a jazz musician is hyped by the media. Sometimes this is well-deserved (Matana Roberts in 2013 with her Coin Coin project, or Jaimie Branch with Fly Or Die in 2017), sometimes it’s less understandable (Kamasi Washington in 2015 and subsequent years). This year, Alabaster DePlume seems to be the man to listen to. Like many of his predecessors, he’s been attributed with the label 'jazz punk'; the German weekly DIE ZEIT claims he plays jazz for people who previously thought it was for old people. His shows have achieved a certain notoriety in the club scene in London, his live sessions are hip, every time he drums up new comrades-in-arms with different skills and backgrounds. Social experimentation, the desire to be different, playing with imponderabilia, inclusion, diversity and accessibility are guaranteed. The concerts are meant to be open play space for audience and musicians. It’s glamorous and meant to be political at the same time.

DePlume has now signed with International Anthem, the Chicago hipster label which has caused a stir because it wants to open up jazz sound spaces to people who haven’t studied the canon from Coltrane to Miles yet, or who previously thought jazz was a niche music. With Jaimie Branch, Makaya McCraven and the Irreversible Entanglements, this has worked out well so far. Alabaster DePlume however, whose real name is Angus Fairbairn, is rather a folk hippie than a jazz musician. He transfers his message of love from the Summer of Love to the gloomy times of these days. It’s no surprise that the subtitle of his new album Gold is Go Forward In The Courage Of Your Love. Although the words “love“, “precious“ and “courage“ are found all over the album, his messages of self-love, respect and gentleness as a tonic against irony and cynicism are not meant to be entirely serious, he claims.

As a saxophonist he had worked for singer-songwriters Rozi Plain and Liz Greene, and for the band Cymbals, before he released albums on his own. Consequently, his saxophone style defies convention. “I play my instrument crosswise“, he said in an interview with Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. Instead of placing the mouthpiece tip-first on his teeth, as he should, he pushes it into his mouth with the entire side, causing the sound to lurch and making it a bit wobbly. He’s not playing one of those perfectly assembled saxophones either, but rather a Conn from the twenties. “I love my Conn,“ he says. “It's awfully slow. But I just don't play fast.“

Musically, Gold is more of a general store, a hodgepodge, the music meandering somewhere between folk and art music, swing is hardly to be found. Instead, there are stoned dub-like sounds, world music, a bit of poetry, and sometimes, yes sometimes a bit of jazz, which reminds quite distantly of Sons of Kemet or other bands from the London scene. DePlume likes to embed his music in choirs, percussion, strings, guitars and all sorts of instrumentation that also reminds one of a soft-spoken Tom Waits (without the man’s characteristic voice, of course). It may be that this will be the new thing this year. To my ears, the overall impression is that it's a bit too palatable, too ready to please the ears. I guess I prefer to listen to jazz that young people think is music for old people.

Gold is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to it and buy it here.


MJG said...

A lovely album. As the review says, I'm not too sure it has too much to do with Jazz either, let alone Free Jazz the focus of this blog so I'm not surprised in the reviewer's response.
I see it sitting more in a lineage with Robert Wyatt's solo works. It is predominantly song and melody based music with some fine players and playing on it. I hear a very fresh and original sound where the apparent positivity is used to great effect as a mirror and comment for our times. The use of choir actually brought to my mind Archie Shepp's use of vocals on that later Impulse run. In fact I hear similarities in the political nature of this and those albums, different political agendas perhaps but not wildly. Try listening to this album and 'Attica Blues' in proximity.
As for Jazz for young and old listeners, that's a false dichotomy if ever there was one. Good music transcends generations, although not in this case for this reviewer. I do wonder whether the focus on the 'hype' and the description of International Anthem as 'hipster' betray just a little the preconceptions our reviewer brought to his listening.
I'd encourage anyone with open ears who is happy to step beyond genre boundaries to give this a listen and see how its charms affect you

Lee said...

A really honest and fair review, Martin. I'm frustrated by the way the material is presented as if nobody has ever thought to do these things before, kind of negating Black American jazz and its rich history exploring (and in many ways defining) avenues and facets of improvisation. All the talk feels vague without committing to something tangible. It's too fuzzy to come into focus, lacking Shepp's intellectual directness it sounds coy.