This decade will be remembered as the decade that jazz innovation was wrestled from the hands and brains of the crazy genius purveyors of nineties/noughties abstract electronica (Aphex Twin, Squarepusher) and reclaimed by a new tribe of instrumentalists (Sons of Kemet, Comet is Coming). This fresh wave of future primitivists blend traditional forms with new and experimental approaches, hybridising jazz and hiphop, soca, afrobeat, grime, techno and dubstep to create new landscapes of fervent and euphoric noise.
From this heady cauldron of classic musicianship and contemporary wildness Leeds quartet Vipertime have emerged, at once in thrall to history yet with a feral and mischievous grasp of an elusive future. Here at PROLE JAZZ we summoned a suitably psychedelic Panel of Proles to channel the spirits of voodoo prose and report back on Vipertime‘s illustrious debut album, Shakedown.
Here’s what they came up with …
Rek Law: Shakedown by Vipertime comes on like a bad snake bite. The album feels like a psychonautical venom-trip; from the initial frantic panic of being bitten, represented by Augury’s explosively dynamic bounce; through the hallucinatory variety of the intervening pieces, which feel like sweetly delirious coma dreams; and the inevitable culmination, as the final shuddering convulsions of Shakedown match the final frantic twitches of nerve and sinew as blood coagulates in veins and cells ache for oxygen.
Vipertime are a Leeds-based funtime fourpiece jazz crew, delivering a tight meld of rapid riffs and wide open sonic spaces. Inspired by Ethio-jazz, psychedelica, 60’s garage and free jazz, they have made great progress in the year-and-a-bit that they’ve been slithering through the scene.
This album meanders through Jazz’s many domains, pausing periodically but never staying stationary for long; we are treated to strong syncopated rhythms laden with cowbell, that hypnotically flow into the warm sax baths of Shadrack. Melodies become ostinatos, developing new rhythms which are picked out in harmonic basslines. Shuffled brush-snare coils and swells lackadaisically, busily underpinning minimalistic bass notes.
Tic tangoes on, sensual and bold. Cheeky cowbells cap the swells of snare. Tangled sax melodies counterpoint a bass that grooves amongst the spiky drumlines which embrace tightly, like being simultaneously bound in soft silken scarves and jagged brambles. Then Corvid cries out from the widening gyre. Broken melodies and swelling cymbals swirl and churn, cyclonic. Sudden sturdy hi-hat tats burst the rising pressure as buffeting gusts of brass and bass batter us, spiralling to crescendo.
Out of the chaos pour Im’s dubby basslines and beats, which wouldn’t sound amiss rattling walls and windows at the West Indian Centre. Flight, the penultimate tune, is a builder; drawn out notes become undulating blankets of tone, the bassline holding tight as drum fills skitter atemporally beneath, delay ruffling notes into rippled ribbons of sound.
Finally, we’ve come full circle – take me home Shakedown. As the snake’s venom takes its toll, a bassline punches staccato groove through the delayed sax as a big syncopated beat mimics a frantic heart pumping sludge. Melodies that are more ostinato than tune create contrary pulsing polyrhythms that wander wantonly through harmony and discord.
Then the final shuddering convulsions, and it’s all over.
Favourite track ~ Corvid
Rek Law is the resident human drum machine for ear-splitting disco-punk legends Yo Dynamo (check them out here) and a generally incandescently lovely humanoid
Empress: Vipertime are vibe-setting dudes with rumbling, mathematical bass hooks, wild percussion and sax hooks to keep you on your dancing feet. I would love to see this band develop the sound further by letting loose a little, relaxing into the wildness and spinning hooks on their heads.
Favourite track ~ Tic, would probably take mushrooms and get my tits out to this live. Love it!
Empress are a DJ-Drum Duo on the Mango Disco label with a shared love for House, SOCA, South African hip-hop, and all things womanly and queer. Their hi-energy live shows are renowned: catch them at a wild party before they go global!
Captain Jack Avery: Leeds is a Mecca of Jazz and the northern headquarters of the ongoing 2019 jazz resurgence. As a city it’s a seething snake-pit of musical talent, a contemporary jazz-Seattle and the home of Vipertime, a quartet of musicians including the riotously adept Ben Powling on tenor sax, guitar guru Matias Reed on bass and two badass drummers whose identities are shrouded in mystery. The pared-down back-to-basics instrumentation of their debut album Shakedown is hypnotically effective, and forces a focus on dynamics, the propulsive rhythm and the melody of the tenor sax.
Theoretical comparisons could be made to other bands featuring sax and double drum (early Vula Viel, Sons of Kemet) but these would be musically facile: Vipertime carve out a sound uniquely and idiosyncratically their own. Their debut album Shakedown traverses all kinds of jazz landscapes, wantonly careening from ethio to carnival to cerebral to punk to dub, and then all the way back again…
The proceedings kick off with Augury which immediately showcases Vipertime‘s obvious strengths: it’s rhythmic and feral, with a serpentine sax line and artful, intertwining bass. The next track is beautifully juxtaposed, the band moving seamlessly from their high-energy opening banger into something exotic and mellow and almost wistful. Shadrack is full of the smoky ambience of a north African opium reverie. The melodies here are at times dreamlike, even tender, and the paucity of instrumentation creates a track full of poise and space.
Southwards we go on the writhing back of the snake, southwards and eastwards and back in time to 70s Addis Ababa for Tic, a deft and profoundly funky LS6 take on Ethio-jazz. Its monstrous groove goes deeper and beds in before returning to the wending, cowbelled verse with its labyrinthine Astatke-ist saxophone. And then we reach Corvid, the midway point of the album, and arguably the apex and pinnacle. What starts as a devotional piece with a repeating trance-like motif metamorphoses into math-psych and then into some kind of mad punk explosion. It’s joyously mischievous and full of raucous power, a flexing of magpie muscle. Corvid, like Shakedown as a whole, is a nest adorned with many a trinket from many an origin, there are obscurantist references aplenty for those with a penchant for musical history, for those with an eye (and ear) for the minutae of sonic composition.
On Im the band fall into a dub groove for the first prolonged movement until the two drummers come into their own and interlocking polyrhythms spin and circle in an ascending vortex of maelstromic sound which delivers us hypnotised and elated to the coda. Flight is a spiritual sojourn into a voodoo trance, through glazed eyes the mesmeric cobra sways. Psychedelic washes of bass hum envelop your senses, a mix of cleanse and confusion, a whispered fugue. The album closes with the propulsive Ethio-carnival banger Shakedown, whose click drums and tight machine-gun taiko snare stabs reference the opening track Augury beautifully as the snake consumes its own tail. It’s Jazz Ragnorak, a celebratory and wild ending to a startling creative triumph. This is a record full of punk energy and cerebral power, full of creative diversity and idiosyncracy, a perfect balance of poise and chaos, at once both a visceral and mystical experience, and one of the best jazz albums of the year so far.
Favourite tracks ~ Shadrock & Corvid, it’s a tie!
Captain Jack Avery is vibez guru of Cosmic Skronkers Captain Avery & the Cosmic Triceratops of Intergalactic Peace and host of occasional talent dive Hot Wombat Sorcery Club. He has a passion for globular star clusters and Dada cookery.