Album of the Week – The Golden Age of Steam – Welcome to Bat Country

October 13th, 2012 by

Descriptive terms to avoid include: Jazzy, mood music, and the oh so dreaded, funky. The Golden Age of Steam are none of the above so please feel safe enough to read on. Now there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of funky town in your jazz fix if that’s your thing. There is also nothing wrong with jazz that provides the backdrop to your dinner party, but I’m a little more partial to the kind of jazz that feels vital, cinematic, vast. Basically Poejazzi collectively likes its jazz like you should like your date: well read. And well read The Golden Age of Steam are (as well as being exceptionally good at surrealist banter pre playing every piece if you see them live) You could call them (and I’m kind of insisting) the Radiohead of jazz because a) every time you see them play live there is a sense of stun and awe and b) they go off in unexpected tangents and yet don’t leave us afloat with no melody to lead us back to the shore if you know what I mean.

Highlights from the album include the creeping and surprising beauty that is Waffle Throne (yes Waffle Throne, can you feel the crazy yet? now you’re starting to get it right?), the escalating cacophony that is Animal Slices with scratchy interspersions of organ bleeps that leave you feeling like you’ve just entered another dimension with really great music and Butter Dome, the track that blends frequency noises, sound excerpts and the organ into a seamless and well organised sense of chaos. Contrastingly, tracks such as Quiet Now are scenic, haunting, and crafted with lovely contemplative gaps for you to fill in with your own version of events. Aglow/Piano Dentist is also majestically sparse until it switches half way through into the jazz equivalent to head banging. With all the latent humour and mixture of the unexpected it would be easy for Golden Age of Steam to get lost in the gimmicktry but there is nothing messy or out of place about Welcome to Bat Country in the same way there is nothing messy about Coltrane (says I) Welcome to Bat Country feels as if it is constantly negotiating spaces and sounds without you noticing that it is rearranging the way you listen to the music itself. It is an extraordinary journey into the unknown on each and every listen that contains hypnotic and classical rhythms within a deconstructed framework in a way that never feels too self aware and always connects emotionally.

About the Author The Golden Age of Steam features the compositions of multi-reedist James Allsopp. The band includes drummer Tim Giles, James’ co-leader of the award winning quintet Fraud (BBC Jazz Award for Innovation 2008). The group is completed by Mercury Prize nominated musician and winner of the BBC Jazz Award for Rising Star 2008, Kit Downes.

The album is out on Basho Records October 15.