Jazz-rock quartet Get The Blessing is a heterogenous beast at the best of times. Bassist and leader Jim Barr hails from Portishead while trumpeter Pete Judge and saxophonist Jake McMurchie are both National Youth Orchestra alumni. Tonight, with Goldfrapp’s Daisy Palmer replacing Clive Deamer on drums, they were more chimerical than ever. But the band take an almost schizophrenic joy in opposites and, slinking onto stage in identical evening wear, their diversity in personnel is largely concealed from the audience.
The effect of the band’s appearance is cold and menacing. This too, however, is quickly dissipated by an opposite tendency towards humour. Or at least it would be if Barr’s quips, delivered deadpan from the depths of black sarcasm, weren’t so cryptic that the audience failed to identify them. “This is a song about a pine marten with five legs” he jokingly introduces ‘Pentopia’. One or two fans snickered but most just looked on confused. This is a band who not only love to play with opposites but always keep one half of the opposition submerged just beneath the surface over which most of the audience skate.
The quartet’s handling of contraries is clearly echoed in their music. In a set drawn mostly from the band’s latest album, OCDC, the rhythm section laid down a steady thunder of tight riffs and even tighter backbeats. The horn frontline, by contrast, conjured expansive unison melodies dense with smart and playful allusions both musical and cinematic.
The cerebral layer of the Blessing’s music has no right to succeed live and yet it does. References to film, now a staple of their sound, worked particularly well on stage. The haunting horn-work on ‘Adagio in Wot Minor’, roving Ornette Coleman-esque over mock Gil Evans soundscapes, left the audience lingering on the corners of sleazy neo-noir backstreets. The deep bass pedal of ‘Between Fear and Sex’ became the grumbling engine of a tense car chase in which the crowd rode shotgun from one climactic improvised chorus to the next. And, finally, ‘Americano Meccano’, the album’s wonderful centrepiece, though it palpably lacked Robert Wyatt’s wordless vocal contribution and Adrian Utley’s latin-inflected guitars nevertheless transformed Ronnie Scott’s into the saloon of a Sergio Leone western. Once again the band were toying with opposites as they combined their rhythmic physicality with their half-concealed esoteric references. But their allusions are rich and compelling enough in themselves that, even if they cannot follow them back to their sources, audiences can still enjoy them.
Get The Blessing succeed live because, although their music hides complexities and allusions capable of drawing fans deeper, they nonetheless offer a remarkably satisfying experience for listeners who stay at the surface. Even if you don’t get Barr’s super-subtle jokes, or the intelligent allusions from the horns, you can still grab the quartet’s exciting visceral treat by its catchy melodic hooks and enjoy it. Sometimes, as when Barr convinced them to keep time to the unclappably fast ‘OCDC’, this can put a credulous audience at the mercy of a band unashamedly happy to have some fun at their expense. Some might object to this dynamic but if band and audience alike both enjoy the show perhaps it doesn’t matter that each is laughing from a different jokebook.
Get The Blessing
Review by Matthew Ellis