Sunday, 7 December 2014

George Crowley's Can of Worms - "T-Leaf"

I have been quite outspoken with my excitement about this band. George has written some great tunes and put together a bit of a dream team (Tom Challenger, Dan Nicholls, Sam Lasserson, Jon Scott).  They recorded some time ago now, with the album Can of Worms due out March 2015 on Whirlwind, but have already played some crucial gigs. This is a recording from their London Jazz Festival slot at The Oxford.

George's first album, Paper Universe (with the same label), was well received by critics. However, when it came to touring afterwards, promoters were unfairly sceptical. They tended to view the band as "the kit downes trio plus sax" - a grim reduction of the jazz ensemble to mere instrumentalists. And they clearly hadn't listened to the album, itself an imaginative masterclass on the quartet as integrated unit, with Crowley's fingerprints all over his tunes to boot. (There is a risk that promotors compound Challenger and Crowley's playing in Can of Worms with their role in Brass Mask - as anyone who has heard both bands would agree, that would be a grave error.)

Crowley's second album represents a huge leap in terms of repertoire, arrangement and most of all an amplified sense of that personality running through it. Confident and "mature" as his first album was (Paper Universe is still a record I go back to again and again), there's a lot more to love about this music: Already at their gigs, you hear members of the audience ask about specific tracks before they play (the moody, drunken "Rum Paunch" is a future London Scene staple, it seems).

This music is undoubtedly smart, but I think it's critical to emphasise how far it all is from the "academic", "cerebral" type backhanded-complements that music journos love to levy at jazzers these days.  A large part of this is due to their energy, whichhas the real potential to mess with your head - the swells and crashes of this music are furious, sly, and even a little sinister. The namesake metaphor, with minor alterations, is apt: psychically-connected killer invertebrates slip out of their tube, gnaw away at your soul, and have a worrying amount of fun while they do it.

This tune, T-Leaf, is a tribute to the late Richard Turner - a man to whom we owe a great deal (least of all, the cellar in cellars and lofts). It's arguable that an entire scene has united around his legacy, especially at the Con Cellar bar - whose latest London Jazz Festival gig completely sold out: the double bill of Liam Noble and Michael Chillingworth was so packed that they were reduced to turning punters away!