Jazz gets wrapped in cellophane and injected with some punk-style attitude
Jazzy post-rockers Get The Blessing can't be described as household names on their British home turf, where their experimental, but highly listenable noise is considered way off the mainstream beat. But in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Spain and parts of the US and Canada, where tastes are more quirky, the sounds made by this Bristol-based quartet are far more widely applauded and sought after.
An opportunity to redress the balance comes when the avant garde band strut their stuff live on stage at Exeter Phoenix on Thursday, March 14, as part of the annual Vibraphonic festival.
Running from yesterday through to March 23, it's the city's annual celebrate all things diverse and progressive in reggae, jazz, hip hop, dubstep, soul, funk, blues, drum 'n' bass, electronica and urban music.
Get The Blessing will feel right at home here.
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"Having a jazz label makes it a bit tricky for us here. What we like about working in other countries is that there isn't such a distinction between jazz and everything else," says the group's bassist, Jim Barr, who is best known as a touring member of Portishead, as well as a highly respected record producer.
"In other places you are just as likely to see young people in a jazz club as you are silver-haired traditionalists.
"I think there is just so much music in the UK that it's almost over-saturated, which means people are more wary of things they don't know.
"Also, ticket prices for jazz gigs can be a bit higher than rock shows, and that means people are less likely to give them a chance."
That's not to say that Get The Blessing can't pull an audience in Britain; they continue to grow their audiences steadily and organically. And at forward-thinking jazz clubs like London's Ronnie Scotts, where they have long outgrown the old guard of the 1970s, they are heartily embraced and encouraged.
Theirs is certainly not "difficult" music to listen to, and it bears its many other influences in its bars and beats, alongside the clear jazz roots.
"We don't do stuff that is brainy; some of it is tricky because we've been doing it a long time, but we aren't out to baffle people – we go for the soul," adds Jim.
Jim describes the group's 2008 BBC Jazz Award win for Best New Album with debut All Is Yes as "the punk entry". That description is quite apt – the band's often-thrashing rhythms and rocking riffs are coupled with an attitude that is both irreverent and mischievous, tempered by genuine emotional punch.
Jim and drummer Clive Deamer have long provided the low-end rumbles and stuttering beats for trip-hop legends Portishead. Clive has also played for a host of musical luminaries, including Radiohead, Robert Plant, Roni Size, Hawkwind and Jeff Beck.
Sax player Jake McMurchie and trumpeter Pete Judge complete a line-up that is definitely a sum of its parts rather than a showcase for individual musicianship and personality.
For their latest photo shoot they even went as far as to mask their faces with some cellophane that was lying around in the studio.
"We wanted to get away from those super-serious pictures of guys in beige casualwear, holding their chins. We almost wanted to take away our identity," says Jim.
"It was fun, but it also flew in the face of the image of jazz. And you can't compete with big personalities like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington."
Jim didn't grow up with jazz. "I first got into music in the mid to late 1970s; my thing was rock, pop, metal and punk," he says.
"In my late teens and early 20s I started discovering jazz and my way in was through the more avant garde thing; I didn't connect with swing stuff at that point. The first record I bought was a John Coltrane and Don Cherry album.
"I liked the fact that there were no chords, and they seemed to be giving the finger with what they were doing."
Sharing the bill with Get The Blessing are a young three-piece on a similar path who are turning heads in all the right places.
Roller Trio were picked out by BBC Introducing last summer and then gathered nominations for both the MOBOs and the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize Album of the Year. Although Alt-J scooped the award, on the night it was Roller Trio's blistering performance that had everyone talking.
The forward-thinking Leeds-based group are James Mainwairing on tenor sax and electronics, Luke Wynter on guitar and Luke Reddin-Williams on drums.
They met while studying at Leeds College of Music and boast a broad range of influences from Tim Berne, Chris Potter and Anthony Braxton to Queens of the Stone Age, Soundgarden, Slum Village, J Dilla and Flying Lotus.
Their own music is a fresh, visceral stew of conventional and experimental sounds – stonking riffs, thrashy noise, evocative songs and electronic soundscapes. Incubated in mammoth improvisation sessions and honed in local Leeds gigs, their music is delivered with a captivating swagger and greedy energy that is utterly beguiling and packs a hook-laden punch.
Other highlights of Vibraphonic include the Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan, Dizraeli and the Small Gods, Ska Cubano, Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, Dub Mafia, and Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor (see Culture page 1).