With a purposeful grimace and a wonderful sound, friendly fiends do the demon dance to reel you, and some unusual suspects, in.
A conglomerate of studio musos bent on having fun, this band – led by Richard Niles whose talents elicited praise from Paul McCartney and Pat Metheny: a sign of the composer’s stylistic reach – finally deliver their long-playing blow. Structured like a theatrical performance, the album may seem to channel the P-Funk kind of reckless madness, yet there’s a method to it that sprawls from the repetitive embrace of “Live As One” across the entire record – brass-blaring and bristling with humor. It ain’t no problem here to namecheck Proust or a Marx brother in a fusion context or taking the piss out of jazz pretenders, although the concept emerging from the grooves is quite serious. While this tight-but-loose ensemble jive is bent on a bass-burst extravaganza, Niles’ bark and Kim Chandler’s silky vocals express the tension of our times on “Why Is This World So Strange?” which could reflect the band’s inner underpinnings if it didn’t chime in with what’s going on on the outside.
This is why, perhaps, harmonies behind “You Can’t Get There From Here” require trumpet high kicks and well-grounded vocal lines of Randy Brecker in order to question claustrophobia of the house on the hill or in the city streets whose ’70s-smelling soulful beats contrast the gloomy lyrics of “Stone Jungle” – showered by Steve Hamilton’s vibes in the same way his piano skittles sprinkle “This World Is Mine” that sees Leo Sayer accept seclusive existence. Even so, darkness doesn’t dwell on tracks like “The 5th Elephant” where reeds cradle the leader’s lazy-in-the-sun guitar licks, and Lamont Dozier’s silky inflections on bluesy pastiche “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” can’t help bringing a smile to the listener’s lips… and do they deliberately make “wretchedness” sound like “Richard Niles”? Celestial a cappella kicking off “Tip For A Toreador” seals the piece’s Spanish drama before it’s fully unfurled to embrace Saracen magic and military march, and stresses the album’s wonderfully unified eclecticism.
It’s a festival of sorts, so rise on and get on the rhythm.