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Free Nelson Mandoomjazz
The Organ Grinder Euan Andrews , November 17th, 2016 10:51

Doom jazz has always felt like a micro-genre too far, something cooked up by an overenthusiastic broadsheet editor looking to lump a disparate crew of combustible performers and musicians together under one unwieldy umbrella. A moniker for a jazz breed whose hearts beat ferociously and wildly yet with a cold sliver of darkness deep within their core; a sort of fire and ice music. Yet, on the second full-length album from this Edinburgh trio, both doom and jazz hang together as equal partners in an occasionally volatile 70-minute witches brew, which rat-tat-tats out influential signposts from artists such as Pharoah Sanders and Black Sabbath and then manifests them into a fully compatible and manoeuvrable form.

It's there in the stark timbre of Rebecca Sneddon's opening solo sax riff on 'Open The Gate', a sombre blues pattern which wails starkly and bitterly against the surrounding silence before heavily reverbed drums and bass feedback build up and attempt to fill the cavernous space with white heat and light. And it does reek of doom, as Paul Archibald's drums pound and Colin Stewart's bass churns daring Sneddon to come down further to their level and do battle. Instead, Sneddon sounds almost oblivious to her sparring partners until her playing explodes into maximum demon expulsion mode, flighty squalls of ferociously jettisoned notes spraying molten sparks across the rhythm section as they dredge through catacombs and underworlds.

You can't call this out as a jazz-rock style fusion, it's more a direct grafting of one musical guiding ethos upon another. It shouldn't really work, yet in the raging interplay between the three players (with occasional augmentation on some pieces by Luc Klein on trumpet and Patrick Darley on trombone) something new and terrifyingly bright is born. When the dual pronged attack of trumpet and saxophone unleashes itself on 'You Are Old, Father William', the sound is akin to Donald and Albert Ayler turning up on an Om record. It is the sound of New Orleans carnival transplanted to a haunted parade for the feasting dead, fit to crawl the dank steep streets of Edinburgh's Old Town.

The Organ Grinder has been recorded in the Reid Hall, part of the University of Edinburgh's School of Music and one of the best and most underused performance spaces in the city: the natural echo and reverb within this 200-seat chamber, most often utilised for classical repertoire presentation, becomes its own recording tool. This is a record which makes great use of the resonant space within which it has been formed, to such an extent that one can almost feel the dark red walls of the hall looming from the grooves. But there is also huge variety across these eleven tracks, from the sparse tumble and crackle of 'The Woods', coming on like a semi-acoustic Supersilent, to 'Calcutta Cutie's delicate piano phrasing (courtesy of Archibald) reminiscent of Bill Evans in a kind of charred mood. At times, Free Nelson Mandoomjazz sound determined to hold aloft jazz's most talismanic icons, so that we may marvel once more at these riches, before burning them to ashes before our gleefully horrified ears.

Here is jazz for darkest, coldest winter. We never find out who or what the organ grinder is or who is dancing a jig at the end of a pull-in cord for our entertainment. The meeting of jazz and rock has generally implied plenty of sweat and hair, energy and violence. While there is plenty of the latter two herein, this is most concertedly a record which broods and glowers at us. Each piece has had careful consideration and composition applied, enabling the trio to hold both heavy metal basement and modern conservatoire as equals within the same musical space. Final piece, 'Om, has Sneddon's sax flickering ghost-like at the periphery of vision while organ drone steadily spreads sickly clusters and tones. If this is Nirvana, it is one filled with foreboding and dread. Sax and organ pierce through the cold gloom and then there is nothing. No release, just the deathly hum of silence and a queasy pallor in the air.