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One of the sharpest and most inspired changes of direction ever for a pop musician was this venture by Tom Jenkinson from sputtery acid electronica into dark, tentacled jazz fusion. Looking back, it's not as completely random a diversion as it might appear. Apart from him being a virtuoso on actual, real, skin-and-sticks drums, you can imagine how being an electronic sequencer whizz can hone the sense of what's possible with rhythm. These skills are channelled through a clear influence of 1970s electric fusion-era Miles Davis, to make this not always penetrable, sometimes room-clearing, but frequently exciting album.
Its tentacles of dirty Rhodes pianos, funky wah-wahs and jabbering synth bass are sometimes random and indisciplined, but it's all held together by his breathless expression on the drum kit. It's the drums that dictate the pace, direction and level of action, all the way. Take the way the slow casual funk of "Chunk-S" is whirled instantly into the fast and complex "Don't Go Plastic". In between the rhythm workouts are the odd minute of creeping electronic effects, in aid of sinister atmosphere-setting, but these are less essential.
I don't have an ear for drum jazz in general, so the album is easier to take in short bursts than trying to make sense of the entire thing at once. So it's no surprise that I find the album's most successful moments are its most melodic. Particularly "Circular Flexing", an exhilarating piece where a rising fragment of a whole-tone scale is swept along with unrelenting hi-hats, electronic sparkles and alien distorted voices. Also the one moment where the tentacles are snipped away, the downbeat "My Sound", which shows his relaxed and tuneful side as a welcome counterpart to the dark stuff.
As an aside, I'm sorry if some readers are irritated by classical muso jargon in reviews, like "whole-tone scale" here. But it's exactly the reason why certain tracks here have the tension, urgency and slight exoticism that they do. It's just a plain fact, no more or less pretentious than saying a guitar is a guitar or a piano is a piano!
May 30, 2006