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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Thursday, 03 August 2017 01:11

Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life

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London-based young guns make upbeat album with a summertime feel.

The four members of Big Bad Wolf are all young turks from the Royal Academy of Music, part of the conveyor belt of young jazz stars which that august institution churns out with industrial efficiency. 

Promising though this debut is, it’s no fairytale.

Indeed, it’s no secret how it came about. As the band likes to make clear on their website, this album’s fairy godmother, if you will, was the Arts Council of England. So, as taxpayers, in a sense we’re all invested in their creativity.

On guitar is Rob Luft, who almost feels like a veteran of the London scene, even though he’s but a babe in arms compared to most of his other guitar contemporaries in the UK scene. He’s joined by Owen Dawson on trombone, Jay Davis on drums and Michael de Souza on electric bass.

Opener Canary is a strong statement of intent. Beginning with a Caribbean beach vibe mixed with the comforting sounds of a south Yorkshire colliery band via Dawson’s trombone, a quite lovely set of chord introduces guitarist Luft and the rest of the band to flesh out this up-tempo, away-with-the-clouds, hum-a-long treat, creating an atmosphere of a pleasant afternoon in the park with the radio on.

The third track features some real pond life - it’s called Frog - and Luft’s simple, elastic guitar sound could bring to mind a frog sitting happily on a lily pad, waiting for his lunch to fly by and humming as he does it. This is a track where simple, well-wrought melodies are not overwhelmed with technical over-the-top-ness or busy production, but rather emerge like the first rays of the sun to warm up the listener.

The longest track, Quiet Coach, is a relaxed piece with a number of different movements, strong tonal variation coming from the contrast of the trombone and the guitar - a real sugar and spice mix. About half way through there are vocals which are, frankly, the weakest element of the track and have the feel of an afterthought.

Hopkin’s Choice is indie-rock-like with its choppy guitars and simple, bumpy drums, and there’s a certain thrillingly simple, ska-influenced edge to it with the trombone coming it.

Pond Life is a smörgåsbord of musical moods and influences which on the whole works, though a couple of tracks this reviewer felt could have done with a little longer in the oven. 

The album will certainly be filed under jazz in any record store but rather like global phenom Snarky Puppy - who have cornered the market in magpie-lied music making, such is their wont to add eclectic and shiny musical objects to every tune they make - so broad are the influences which these young players bring in that Pond Life could also be filed under progressive rock or indie pop, at a pinch. 

I’m sure his band mates won’t begrudge me saying this, but it is Rob Luft’s singular guitar sound and creativity which creates the buzz and ‘wow’ factor for this album, and I’m sure live Pond Life will be something to behold. 

Kind of Jazz listeners interested in knowing more can visit the band’s website.

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