Led Bib - X-ray vision

Curiously named after the protective garment used to shield dental patients during x-rays, Led Bib is set to shake up the UK jazz scene already gravitating to a new set of rules in the wake of Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland. Led by US drummer Mark Holub the group was initially influenced by New York downtown groups of the 1980s but is just as likely to bash out post-modern version of David Bowie as it is to double think whatever John Zorn is toying with. You won’t be bored, says Daniel Spicer. Led Bib - X-ray vision

Mark Holub, youthful and articulate, is reminiscing with a louche New Jersey twang about a trip to the notorious Sizewell nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast. “I was on a gig there and for whatever reason they decided to house the musicians right next to the power plant. We were right by the beach – a beautiful bit of coastline – and right there, in the shadow of the power plant, is this little tea stand called, as a joke obviously, Sizewell Tea. It’s not a very funny joke.” Maybe not, but it evidently made enough of an impression on Holub to become the title of his band Led Bib’s second album, released this month on Babel. And, here’s the thing: the more you hear the album, the more you begin to realise just how apt a title it is. With its mixture of the silly and the grimly serious, its screwball determination and up-yours defiance it is Led Bib in a nutshell.

There’s one more obvious connection here too: Sizewell Tea comes on like a nuclear meltdown of furious and unpredictable energy, throwing together blazing improvisation and tight, heavy riffs to create an electrified 21st century Fire Music. One thing’s obvious from the first listen: these five musicians love to play. Chris Williams’ and Pete Grogan’s alto saxes weave around each other like some rasping, double-headed monstrosity while Toby McLaren’s electric piano spits out lumps of molten lava and Liran Donin lets loose jazz-punk basslines funkier than the back seat of a New York taxi cab. And, underpinning it all, is Holub’s drumming: an unhinged and uncompromising master class in avoiding the obvious in pursuit of infinite, hyperkinetic possibilities.

Just as the quintessentially English stiff-upper-lip fatalism of the Sizewell gag could perhaps only be properly appreciated by a visitor to these shores, so Led Bib’s fiery mix of downtown New York experimentalism, free improv and British jazz-rock is inevitably the product of a trans-Atlantic perspective. Growing up in New Jersey, Holub naturally gravitated towards the alternative sounds to be sampled in iconic New York venues such as The Knitting Factory and Tonic – sounds that had a profound impact on his musical ambitions.

“When I originally stated getting into contemporary jazz I was listening to John Zorn and others associated with that scene. It was exciting to see Zorn specifically because it was like ‘wow, this guy has obviously studied classical traditions but he’s doing his own thing – it’s not important whether he’s playing like Charlie Parker or whoever.’ That was when I started thinking maybe I didn’t just want to play like Tony Williams.”

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