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Patty Griffin
American Kid
New West records ****
Any jazz singer worth their salt could cover just about any track on American Kid, Patty Griffin’s latest. Why? Well, with the exception of ‘Go Wherever You Wanna Go’ they all have that indefinable thing that connects no matter the musical genre. Come to think of it listen to the beginning of ‘Wild Old Dog’ and listen to the beginning of ‘Cyprus Avenue’, on Astral Weeks, and draw your own conclusions. Genres melt. Last year Bettye LaVette, who can cover Van Morrison songs better than most, did everyone a favour by doing a Detroit soul version of Griffin’s ‘Time Will Do the Talking’ from Living with Ghosts, Griffin’s 1996 debut. Recorded in Memphis with North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson, every song has its merits and quite a few (‘Ohio’, ‘Wild Old Dog’ and ‘Not a Bad Man’ primarily) have “instant classic" written all over them. ‘Irish Boy’ has a very pretty melody and is quite sad as is the more mannered ‘Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone’; while ‘Get Ready Marie’ is a bar-room belter of some quality. Robert Plant Band of Joy fans see Griffin as family, and his appearance on three songs with his partner, only intensifies that process. The sheer quality of this album will only further increase their affection for Griffin.
Released on 13 May.

Patty Griffin tours in July. Dates are Sage, Gateshead, 19 July; Concert Hall, Perth (21 July), Stables, Milton Keynes (23 July); Glee Club, Birmingham (24 July); Union Chapel, London (25 July); and Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge (26 July).

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WorldService Project
Fire in a Pet Shop
Megasound **** ALBUM OF THE WEEK

The early life of WorldService Project, invariably known as WSP, in terms of recording was unusual as the band issued fiddly EPs and developed a live following “match & fusing” with similarly minded below-the-radar often bizarrely accomplished prog-jazz outfits from across Europe. This all culminated in a two-day festival last year in Dalston, and its successor is on the horizon this year having relocated, as you do, to Oslo. As an album band Fire in a Pet Shop is probably the first real test of the band’s mettle. The title track may be dimly familiar to more hardcore fans as it appeared on a by-now collectable EP called Live From London. While ‘De-Frienders’, is a reference to people online who dispense with the boring, botherers, dotty, and frankly deranged who increasingly populate social networking sites, and who also feature in “the thanks”, which bizarrely ranges from London’s most Ryanair-like council, Barnet; to the Portuguese language. This tune was an obvious highlight of last year’s Match & Fuse festival performance by the band.

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WSP is a powerful quintet: It doesn’t do skronk (ie it’s not a free improv-into-metal “punk jazz” band), and while there isn’t an official cloak of secrecy the band of Tim Ower on saxophones, apparently “meowing” as well, trombone player Raphael Clarkson, bassist Conor Chaplin, and drummer Neil Blandford are very much the secret behind keyboardist/svengali Dave Morecroft’s rise to World stardom. Surely he is the owner of a cape.

But what do they play? Well, if you draw a line in the sand back to Soft Machine (the birth of prog jazz via the Canterbury scene) and take it forward in time to Delightful Precipice then downsize it, chop off a bit of the arch chat, instal a no-vocals policy in these teeteringly tripledip times, and there you have it. WSP are part of that glorious continuum. It’s quite loud and it is very messy with Morecroft’s factory-setting keyboards somehow sounding like he could be Django Bates but can’t really be bothered, at least yet. All eight tunes of his are on message and it’s beyond-the-barline funky with a feeling of abandon. The boffin-like preternaturally-quiet keyboards passages folded in resemble a scientist at work on some mad scheme in a garden shed absent mindedly applying jump leads to an unsuspecting squirrel while listening to Keith Emerson. Clarkson also gets out of control from time to time very much like his motoring journalist namesake. But thankfully, in this phase of the band’s colourful history to date, with quite a few more social skills. MB

No animals were hurt in the making of this album: WorldService Project top and above 

Released officially on 24 June

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Bill Frisell
Big Sur
OKeh **** RECOMMENDED

Think Big Sur and in the 1990s that meant in terms of jazz only one name: Charles Lloyd. Bill Frisell’s latest, more than 20 years on from the hippie jazz legend’s Notes From Big Sur, has its roots in a Monterey Jazz Festival commission, and was written while the influential guitarist was based on the sprawling Glen Deven Ranch in California west of the Ventana Wilderness in northern Big Sur. Frisell and Lloyd were of course not the first musicians or writers to find inspiration in Big Sur. Jack Kerouac made his way there, as famously did gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson as well as a host of New Age mystics and artists of every persuasion since the 1960s. For Frisell the solitude and scenery of his surroundings dug deep, but there is a warmth and feeling of community here, not a sense of isolation, on these 19 fairly short compositions. Beyond Americana, joining Frisell are long term violinist Jenny Scheinman, viola player Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts, and drummer Rudy Royston, and highlights of a highly endearing but thought-provoking album include the hippie, hippie shake hoedown of ‘The Big One’; the lovely strings setting on ‘Gather Good Things Part 1 and 2’; a certain indefinable rural charm on ‘Cry Alone’; and ‘We All Love Neil Young’ because of its naivety and humanity, and also just for the title. Frisell’s beautifully shaped guitar lines in the early part of ‘Far Away’ are also a small reminder of exactly why he’s a guitar great. MB  

Released on 3 June. Bill Frisell and the Big Sur band top. Photo: Monica Frisell

Updated: 27 June 2013 Personnel now correct. Apologies.