Squarepusher has always felt like a reaction to the limitations of being a band. Aside from the obvious fact that the man behind it, Tom Jenkinson, could be as dictatorial as he liked with no need for diplomacy, early material such as Hard Normal Daddy and Music is Rotted One Note seemed to act to bridge the gap between what could be accomplished with a band and how far electronics could be pushed to create something generally unique. Since then Jenkinson’s career under the Squarepusher moniker has seemingly come full circle. Joined by Strobe Nazar, Company Laser, and Arg Nution, Jenkinson has tried to break existing expectations of not only what Squarepusher are about but what a band can do in reinterpreting his sound. To do this, he has taken 11 songs from his back catalogue and transferred them to a live, full band setting.
For an album that encompasses so much of what is genuinely unique and captivating about Jenkinson’s career, it is fitting that the set opens with “The Swifty” from his debut full-length album Feed Me Weird Things. Transferred to a live setting and with a full band, it sounds very similar to the original. The deep dub bass of the original is maintained as are the fractured bursts of discordant noise that jab through like a late night car alarm. However, it is the use of live drums that elevates it to something truly special. Whereas the original sounded thrilling yet rudimentary, an artifact of the analogue, bedroom beat making culture, this sounds full and vital. It feels as if this is how it always should have sounded. From the outset, it is clear that his early recordings are more than ready for full-band interpretation. Nevertheless, it’s something of a deceptively slow beginning, like the band is just checking everything is in full working order before things get really crazy…. and boy do they.
“Coopers World” is a whirlwind of funk guitar, slap bass, and lightning quick drumming. Before long it “goes the full Shaft” as it captures the full squelchy, ‘70s funk glory of Isaac Hayes’ theme. The interplay between the instruments, particularly between the bass and the drums, is extraordinary. At times it’s hard to remember that the sound emanating from the speakers is made by actual human beings as the instruments build to an impossibly quick flurry of notes and beats. This is certainly true of “E8 Boogie” which features an epically fast whirl of bass runs that audibly gets the crowd on their feet. The breakneck pace and the change in tempo from quiet to loud are nothing short of mesmerizing and mark it out as one of the finest examples of contemporary jazz bass playing you will ever hear.
That’s not to say that everything on the album relies on inhuman technical dexterity and awe inspiring speed. The band is more than capable of adding subtlety to the set.“Iambic 5 Poetry” from the 1999 mini-album Budakhan Mindphone is a gorgeous pause for breath, with the band pushing the gently flowing dub notes allowing the song to bathe you in its warm, ethereal glow. “Squarepusher’s Theme” brings back the squelchy ‘70s fusion with a little post-punk guitar. Once again the drumming is spectacular as it sets off at a frenetic pace which is maintained during a full on guitar wig out in the mid-section.The guitar histrionics also feature in “Deep Fried Pizza” that comes across like the player is channeling Stevie Ray Vaughn, Frank Zappa, and Joe Satriani all at the same time.
Elsewhere, “Megazine” from the band’s only full-length album to date, 2010’s d’Demonstrator, mixes early Daft Punk Vocoder effects with Bauhaus style goth organs. “Delta V” is even more surprising as it comes across like a missing punk classic featuring a taut, furious guitar riff and a body-slamming punk rock breakdown. “Anstromm Feck 4” shows off Squarepusher’s more experimental, electronic side as it leaps about with glitchy, fidgety glee. Jenkinson pulls out one of his deeper cuts to close the set in the form of “Journey to Reedham” from his Big Loada mini-album. Once again it features a hailstorm of frenetic drumming, blistering jazz bass with enough electronic tweaks and shifts to remind you just who exactly is behind the project.
Jenkinson has made it clear that his aim for Shobaleader One was to challenge perceptions of what a band is capable of. This live album has done exactly that. It is one of those rare albums where the playing sounds, at times, beyond the evolutionary capabilities of humans. It also proves what a talent the man behind Squarepusher is and how he has consistently challenged the expectations of what jazz can bring to electronic music and what electronic music can bring to jazz.
// Notes from the Road
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