Acoustic Ladyland

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Is it punk played on jazz instruments or jazz played in rock venues? Kenny Mathieson resists pigeonholing and basks in the chaos of Acoustic Ladyland

Acoustic Ladyland may have drawn their inspiration from music that first blasted ears four decades ago, but their scorching aural assault has broadened considerably from the quartet’s initial acerbic fusion of Jimi Hendrix, post-Coltrane free jazz and punk. It has elevated them to serious cult status, and - as the venue suggests - has taken them out of the jazz circuit and into rock venues.

The band initially got together with their first re-workings of thinly disguised Jimi Hendrix material back in 2001. They took their name from Hendrix’s famous Electric Ladyland album, but the non-cooperation of the Hendrix estate meant they had to adopt a pseudonym. Their first album, Camouflage (2004), was followed by a Best Band award at the BBC British Jazz Awards in 2005, and the release of their second disc, Last Chance Disco, later that year.

The quartet, with Pete Wareham on saxophone, Tom Cawley on keyboards, Tom Herbert on bass and Aberdeen’s Seb Rochford on drums (and hair), caused a bit of a stir, as did Rochford’s other band, Polar Bear, which also featured Wareham and Herbert (I should say one of his other bands - he is nothing if not ubiquitous). Acoustic Ladyland neither looked nor sounded the way jazz bands were generally supposed to, and their off-centre fusion generated a fair bit of amazed comment. Pete Wareham has remained fairly phlegmatic about the whole business.

‘I just wondered what it would sound like to play punk rock on jazz instruments. Then I realized it was quite new when I couldn’t find any real evidence of it, apart from people like Morphine. I think barriers between genres are getting broken down a little bit now. For us it’s not an outlandish thing to merge different styles of music. But other people seem to be making quite a fuss about it.’

Eighteen months on and the band’s third album has pushed the boundaries of their music even further. Skinny Grin added vocals to the mix, with Wareham taking the bull by the horns on lyrics written by his wife, Maxime, augmented by contributions from two women singers, Alice Grant (on ‘Paris’) and Anne Booty, recruited via MySpace and featured on ‘Cuts & Lies’, while James Chance (remember him?) guested on saxophone on ‘Saltwater’.

For their dates this month, the band will introduce their new bass player, Ruth Goller. The change is unlikely to alter the band’s trademark combination of anarchic freedom with a startling ensemble precision, and enough energy to power a space flight, fuelled by Seb Rochford’s electrifying drumming. Just don’t ask the saxophonist to categorize what they do.

‘I’ve had to resist giving the music a name. My argument is if you give music a name it will grow really quickly but will die out really quickly. We’re on a different path to that. It’s still the band and the sound and the energy, but aesthetically it might change and I want to have the freedom to do that. We’re jazz musicians, but we’re in the rock section in your record shop as well. We’re playing this kind of music and that’s all it is. Who cares what it’s called. We just hope people like the sound of it.’

King Tut’s, Glasgow, Thu 26 Apr.

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