The group knows how to chase each other into new territory, and the horizon stays perpetually distant.
Led Bib manages to sound both scattered and unified at once. The group's range of influences and sounds are always scattered, always about to come unhinged without ever quite doing so. The band is unified in the tightness of their performances, largely improvised, but locked in. No matter how much they reach into prog, rock, world, or whatever else, they're a jazz band at root; not a typical one, but a jazz band nonetheless, and part of the fun (for them, presumably, as for us) is hearing the centrifugal movement of the music before it pulls back in.
Latest album Umbrella Weather carries forward that idea. The quintet, led by drummer Mark Holub and oddly fronted by two alto saxophones, pursue a series of lengthy explorations, each one surprising but none outside the guiding ideas of the group (“Too Many Cooks” breaks the pattern with its brevity, but even that turns out to be a quick narrative assault that does hint at spoiled broth). Consider the “Lobster Terror” opener. Holub's drums never settle into anything comfortable, and while Peter Grogan and Chris Williams have an alto debate, the band hints at a detente before finally throwing the whole thing in the pot.
“Ceasefire” hints at a calm after the storm with its restrained beginning. It's misdirection of course; the piece instead picks up a krautrock groove. The track's title lies; there's no pause in the action here. It's an unusual role for Holub. He's locked in as a timekeeper, and his steadiness lets his bandmates take off, and Toby McLaren's keys don't allow any sense of relaxation. The track's all nervous energy waiting for release, and we never receive it.
The band's energy and penchant for surprise remain their greatest strengths, but that doesn't mean they can't go slow. “Fields of Forgetfulness” has a few meditative minutes, used in part to set up a more disruptive thoughtfulness, but lovely in its own right. “Goodbye”, which closes the album, builds patiently, suppressing commotion in favor of a more unified crescendo. Umbrella Weather has plenty of madcap moments, and its parting song shows how to integrate the crazy. Every chaotic exploration is just a brief diversion before the group's reunification.
More often, though, that unity comes with an impish pleasure in misdirection. Every time Led Bib acts like, say, a post-bop outfit, they make sure to remind us of their punk influences. “Skeleton Key to the City” alone argues that the group could be one of about five different acts. They could play jazz, but they won't. They could just do some sax-laden rock, but that would be too easy. Maybe a noise band, or prog? The group changes not throughout the album but within tracks, but as an M.O., it makes for an entertaining rather than jarring experience. The band knows how to chase each other into new territory, and the horizon stays perpetually distant.