Release Date: Jun 25, 2013
Record label: The Leaf Label
Genre(s): Electronic, Jazz
There can’t be many people who don’t like a horn section. Stick a bit of brass on a track and you get motion, rich textures and timbres, warmth and depth – all of the best things about music. From marching bands to Motown, what’s not to love? Melt Yourself Down don’t exactly have a horn section going on – and in fact they don’t use any instruments that are strictly brass – but with a pair of fearsomely played saxophones providing the melodic current of their album they achieve all of that movement and warmth.
As the multiple mis-starts that this review has gone through attest, there’s something intrinsically daunting in the words ‘contemporary jazz’, even if the genre has been creeping little by little into wider consciousness – mostly through the token nod in the Mercury shortlist every other year. Yet, that could change with the debut from London-based sort-of super-group (although such a term does seem a bit redundant for a scene that thrives so much on near-incestuous collaboration) Melt Yourself Down, who were sufficiently unscary to appeal to the likes of the bookers for Later… with Jools Holland, and then proceeded to deliver a performance of unhinged intensity rarely seen in that environment. While it may have seemed somewhat alien at first, given the circumstances, quality to Melt Yourself Down’s performance as what they do, essentially, is create straight-out horn-based party music, not that dissimilar to the likes of Balkan brass masters the Markovics, for example, in a fairly straight-forward manner, just with the odd bits of embellishment, such as in the electronica-based input of the suitably bizarrely monikered Leafcutter John, or the tricky, skipping structure of Tuna, with nods towards ska and afro-beat, (unsurprising considering percussionist Satin Singh’s work on the National Theatre’s Fela!), and a whole load of noise, either in the reedy clarinet and saxophone squawks, or in the vocals of Kushal Gaya, which often stumble into region of John Lydon yelling in Creole.
Melt Yourself Down is saxophonist Pete Wareham's mark II version of his flamethrowing punk-jazz party band, Acoustic Ladyland, now with the excellent Shabaka Hutchings also on sax. Reports say MYD are just as exhilarating live, tearing it up with young crowds even more ferociously than Ladyland did – but if you're listening at home, crank the volume up to 11. North African rhythms are an inspiration, and vocalist Gaya's bellowings in French, Creole and personal gibberish also give the band much of its helldriving character.
The self-titled debut album from Melt Yourself Down explains why the band, which combines the talents of some of the U.K.'s most boundary-pushing jazz and avant acts, is considered to be a supergroup. Brought together by former Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham, who had a dream of making "Nubian party punk," the act includes other members of Wareham's old band as well as players from Hello Skinny, Sons of Kemet, and Zun Zun Egui, all of which are groups that share an equal fondness for authenticity and experimentation. Members of the band have also played with Mulatu Astatke and Rokia Traore, emphasizing the passion the group has for the roots of their sound as well as the far-flung directions in which they can be taken.
Melt Yourself Down rises from the ashes of Acoustic Ladyland, an incendiary ensemble led by British saxophonist Pete Wareham that played free-improv jazz as if it were hard-charging rock music. Parting ways with drummer Seb Rochford-- with whom he continues to play in Polar Bear-- Wareham brings along bassist Ruth Goller for this frenetic dance-music project, whose fast, fleet lines have more to do with world pop and funk, particularly African, than jazz, recalling a globalized !!!. Rounded out by tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, vocalist Kushal Gaya of art-funk terrors Zun Zun Egui, and dual percussionists Tom Skinner and Satin Singh, Melt Yourself Down's debut is direct and infectious, jostling with harmonic and rhythmic allusions to Nubia, the Middle East, Latin America.
It's practically impossible to describe what Melt Yourself Down sound like without coming across like a caricature of Bobby Gillespie. Let's give it a try: punk jazz funk afrobeat blues hip-hop no-wave free-jazz dance psychedelic rock. See what I mean? Named after an obscure, Japan-only album released by no-wave hero James Chance under the name James White & The Blacks in 1988, Melt Yourself Down is the third awesome band in a row (at least) to showcase the talents of saxophonist Pete Wareham.
Depending on personal preference, Melt Yourself Down’s self-titled debut could be regarded as equal parts terrifying and thrilling a prospect. At one end of their spectrum, the band, a collaborative effort that features members of jazz troupe Acoustic Ladyland and Transglobal Underground among others, deliver a meaty bass-heavy series of what is essentially dance tracks that utilise organic or traditional instruments in place of keyboards, synths and drum machines. The other side to their craft falls more or less in line with a more conventional world music standpoint.