Led Bib – Sensible Shoes

Led Bib – Sensible Shoes

Led Bib – Sensible Shoes

Sun Ra was one of the most controversial and influential jazz musicians of all time. During his life, the bandleader, poet and piano player ended up making over one hundred albums and thus, ranked him as one of the most prolific recording artists of the 20th century. You can take any of his albums, any of them, and study, analyze and critique it for weeks, months, years and still find new things to comment on. Not only was he one of a kind but he was a towering force that many artists have looked up to.

His endless gifts were blessings and it’s even more rewarding to find another band that has taken to his style—one that has worked against what would be deemed as ‘normal’ and ‘popular.’ Led Bib isn’t your normal Mercury Prize nominees because its brand of jazz is relentlessly out of this word and still, splendidly excellent. But the group’s first album to be released in the U.S. is Sensible Shoes and it’s completely deserving of such an award.

The London-based quintet place keyboards, drums and bass together and the other two members come in the form of two dueling saxophonists, Chris Williams and Pete Grogan. With a heavy mixture of harsh dissonance and screaming walls of sounds, the two are a seamless force. Always colliding against what the others are doing without ever conspiring against them, the color, timbre and tone they bring is unquestionably significant.  

The opening moments of “Yes, Again” combine an ominously eerie piano part and light percussion. The saxes join in: one goes high, while the other lifts right underneath him. The music cuts out to reveal an open quietness before the saxes, in remarkably accurate unison, tear into you. From here, it’s a justifiably loud cascade of sounds before transitioning to the harsh crunchiness of synths. A siren calls the band to the front and only one sax is left to solo over an undeniably funky rhythm section. By the way, this is all within the first four minutes of the album.

For all the noise and clatter they create with their enormous compositions, the members of Led Bib have a way of affecting on a much more personal level. Esoteric and drastically human, like the giant Sun Ra, their music is determined to connect. The beauty of “Early Morning”’s opening is all in the way Williams and Grogan play off each other. The chemistry between them is outstanding and it’s conveyed through amazing musical moments. The guitar’s pedal tones and drum’s hi-hat are timely choices, drummer and bandleader, Mark Holub then allows the saxes to lay into the sweetness some more. With only an upright bass in accompaniment, the lone sax player improvises over a tumbling tom drum line: it’s the perfect imagery in awakening to find the dawning sun shining through.

If you dig in, Sensible Shoes will reveal countless treasures. Each piece has its own story to create and interpret and by way of talented musicians, they shape the album into the cohesive element it is. The skunk-funk roll of “Call Centre Labyrinth” recalls the Brecker Bros. self-titled album with both of the saxes fighting off each other in an uproar of chaos. Then there is the psychedelic sprawl that is “Sweet Chili.” Blowing the roof off with blasting sounds of destruction and discord, it’s easily the album’s hardest hitting rupture. Imagine the heaviest metal but performed by saxes and then out of nowhere, turning into a smooth jazz getaway—and yes, it can still blow your speakers out.

But there is nothing on here that is anywhere near the flawlessness that is “Zone 4.” Envisioning a lost land where all of its inhabitants have left, the saxes once again tear down the door in the beginning. A sole bass appears, along with a clamping organ to calm everything down. The saxes come back, only this time, they are melodically enhanced with a linear body of music. It grows from here, the common tread coming from the bass and its looping repetition. But it all dies away, leaving the saxes alone, in reflection. Somber and tender, the ending melody is a gorgeous Coltrane-like dream. One sax is low and rumbling, while the other simply sings on top of it: it’s special, it’s surreal and it’s absolutely superb. And in a lot of ways, it’s exactly what Sensible Shoes is all about; Sun Ra would be proud.

Cuneiform Records