One King Poets

Major Wood
Fragile Noise / CD99FN50

Mike Walter / saxophones, Paul Shearsmith / trumpet, trombone, Giles Perring / electric guitar, Jerry Bird / bass, Robin Musgrove / drums

It would be tempting to say, in that journalistic cliche, that the One King Poets are a controlled musical explosion.Mining an unfashionable vein of groove-based, electrified improvisation, they invite comparison with 70s Miles, Mahavishnu and, at times, Last Exit. But such comparisons can be lazy and, as Richard Sanderson points out in his sleeve notes, they’re also unhelpful to all concerned, as journalistic cliches often are. Anyway, the OKP aren’t polite enough to control themselves — they just explode.

This group, like the wonderful FJQ, is built on the granite foundation of Musgrove and Bird. The former favours 6/8 and 4/4 rhythms and swings so hard it’s prudent to open the windows. Bird locks in with him using an unconventional two-handed tapping technique on the fretless bass; the result is a swaggering, quasi-tonal funk.

As a duo, these two can make very involving music, but the OKP’s initial lineup also included saxophonist Mike Walter. His gutsy, bad-boy tenor work makes him no Wayne Shorter, and he’s more than capable of pushing the button marked “noise” when he wants to. This is hardly a rhythm-and-reeds arrangement either, however. There are solos here, but the dynamic is closer to Ornette’s Free Jazz session, in which the whole group plays together, commenting on and helping to develop the solo line. Typically, there are several solos going on at once.

This brings us to the other two members, Perring and Shearsmith. Perring plays in the Hendrixian tradition, with plenty of imagination in his bluesy wha-wha and a good sense of ensemble work. Shearsmith uses a completely different approach. He likes to sit out and make minimal but extremely effective contributions, as if shouting them from the sidelines. Because of this, he’s easy to underestimate, but his work here is decisive. If you get the chance, see these boys live; whether you do or not, this recording captures them in full flight. Recommended. Richard Cochrane