Hard on the heels of their ‘epic and ground-breaking’ Granite project, Kate and the Granite Band with producer Jay Auborn are back with a major new album. Recorded in Summer 2019 in the depths of the Devon countryside, mixed and mastered at dBs studios Bristol, Earth Felt the Wound deploys state-of-the-art recording to stunning effect and takes Kate and The Granite Band in a radically new direction.
Earth Felt the Wound - its title a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost - is an album of extremes, from the intimate to the epic, from the tenderness of the Rossini ballad Once Upon a Time to the rock histrionics of Drowned in the Flood. It opens with with one of Westbrooks’ most lyrical songs The Streams of Lovely Lucienne and closes with the exuberant comedy of Rooster Rabelais. Elsewhere Kate’s lyrics examine the contemporary issues of climate change and threats to the planet. The song at the heart of the album, Storm Petrel takes its title from the tiny seabird that spends its life on the ocean, while beneath its dancing feet sea levels are rising.
Kate’s collaboration with Mike began with their jazz cabaret Mama Chicago, which won the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Award in 1978. There has followed a succession of music-theatre pieces, settings of European poetry, operas and original song cycles. Kate’s lyrics are often a response to contemporary social, cultural and environmental issues. A notable example is The Serpent Hit, a Political Fable, recorded in 2013, produced by the late Jon Hiseman. Granite, a composition inspired by her love of Dartmoor and its granite quarries, was recorded in 2018, her first collaboration with Jay Auborn. To perform it she brought together the group of highly individualistic, open-minded and ‘rock solid’ musicians who make up The Granite Band.
Sid Smith, reviewing Granite in Prog Magazine commented on “the Westbrooks’ wilful disregard of pigeonholing”. The new album proves once again that Kate and composer Mike Westbrook don’t acknowledge musical boundaries.
photo: Sergio Amadori
Four Songs from Earth Felt The Wound
Threat of Natural Disaster Kate Westbrook The Granite Band also on YouTube
Once Upon A Time Kate Westbrook Billie Bottle also on YouTube
The Streams of Lovely Lucienne Kate Westbrook The Granite Band also on YouTube
Kate Westbrook returns with the Granite band that so powerfully debuted with the album of that name. But where Granite was an evocation of the terrifying beauty of Westbrook's beloved Cornwall, Earth Felt The Wound takes similar themes - of Nature huge, indifferent and mortally wounded by man - and expands them to epic, Miltonesque, scale.
The difference is most obviously pointed up in the treatment of Berlin's 'Let's Face the Music and Dance'. On Granite, the song closes the album in lyric style, Kate whistling winsome against found. birdsong and the echoing of a granite quarry. On Earth Felt the Wound it's the cry of a wound opening, a defiant yowl against the dying of the light, the last dance on the Titanic.
Not that this world and what we've done to it is without redemption, but consolation is buried full fathoms deep and is often a singular affair. Perhaps a Cinderella innocence will save us (a lovely live arrangement of a Rossini theme), perhaps a Rabelaisian lust for life, summed up in 'Rooster Rabelais'. But while lonesome seabirds skip and dance (Harding's squalling sax is most apposite on 'Storm Petrel'), the waters still mass around a drowning world - North keeps it apocalyptic with some Fripp-like chordings - while Coach York's drums crack hurricanoes.
Producer and engineer Auborn and Godfroy somehow summon, as they did on Granite, a world that is both sonically intimate, catching Westbrook's every breathy, wracked or rainbow sweet intonation yet also quarry wide in its range of dynamics. Tlhe title of course comes from Milton's Paradise Lost, wherein the best tunes notoriously went to the Devil.
Well, Kate Westbrook just gave him some more.
Andy Robson - Jazzwise
Is it really two years since Kate Westbrook’s last record Granite came out? Reviewing that record, I suggested that its music, lyrics and performance sat as easily within art or progressive rock as within jazz. But then the Westbrooks’ ability to cross boundaries has always been one of their greatest strengths.
Earth Felt the Wound is a further such case in point. Even for long-standing fans, the breadth of their musical world and determination to explore new territory will continue to surprise and delight. Drawing from the pool of West Country-based musicians that form the Westbrooks’ Uncommon Orchestra, this is very much a band of sisters and brothers – a happy few, indeed. What you get here is a complete package. Every detail has been attended to and got just right.
From the bossa nova of the opening The Streams of Lovely Lucienne to the rock-blues of Bathing Belles and Fiscal Analysts and Drowned in the Flood, music and lyrics move across landscapes of concern and affiliations, lamenting the beauty of a natural world under threat. There is a novelistic quality to several of these songs. Lucienne seems to contrast the innocence of childhood with the growing uncertainties of adolescence in its protagonist, while Rooster Rabelais is an Aesop-like fable. Threat of Natural Disaster is repeated in a French translation with different music and succeeds in linking the Westbrooks’ enthusiasms for fine art (Kate is a remarkably gifted painter), Rossini, landscape and the natural world. Its setting of Altdorf connects Rossini – the village built a theatre for a performance of his opera, William Tell – and J.M.W. Turner, who painted Storm in the St. Gotthard Pass and Little Devil’s Bridge nearby.
Earth Felt The Wound Reviews
But the way the music is structured here is also intriguing. The sound is often quite compressed. The twin guitars of Matthew North and Jesse Molins form a middle strata, with the rhythm section of Mike Westbrook on keys, Billie Bottle on bass guitar and piano and Coach York on drums forming the bedrock, leaving the voice of Kate and saxophone of Roz Harding to tell the story of sediment and the passage of time. This is no more evident than on the three tracks that form a kind of triptych towards the record’s end.
First up is an apocalyptic Let’s Face the Music and Dance, its emphasis definitely on “trouble ahead” and with some excellent, doom-laden drums from York. Storm Petrel follows. Perhaps the finest track on a fine album, its music swells and swirls over driving rhythms from York and Bottle, with Harding offering a fittingly avian soprano solo. Finally, Rossini’s Once Upon a Time with just Kate’s voice and Billie Bottle on piano offers a sense of closure, as its subject rejects pomp and beauty in favour of innocence and virtue. In a way, the song harks back to the opening The Streams of Lovely Lucienne – innocence is restored.
Rooster Rabelais closes the album with darkly anthropomorphic good humour and a healthy dose of the blues, with Harding’s soprano again taking an ornithological turn. A fitting ending to this rainbow of music and words. Beautifully produced, performed and packaged, Earth Felt the Wound, if anything, improves upon its excellent predecessor.
Duncan Heining - London Jazz News
Rooster Rabelais Kate Westbrook The Granite Band also on You Tube
Kate Westbrook’s album with her Granite Band turns to Milton’s epic Paradise Lost for her title, Earth felt the Wound, and never has she sung with such protean power. Lyricism, blues, prophecy, exhortation, admonition and menace are all in her octogenarian voice, as if life’s fullness and forebodings pour out of her words.
In 'Storm Petrel' she envisages a catastrophe of a deluged world: “Do you hear the drowned band/Playing in deep water street?” she sings, alongside Billie Bottle’s bass like a flat stone skimming across an ever-rising seascape. She leaves the warnings of 'Weltende Begins' to Roz Harding’s eloquently free saxophone or the ominous pathos of Billie Bottle’s piano intro to 'Once Upon a Time'. Her voice, in unison with Matthew North’s guitar, “wise up” blues in 'Bathing Belles and Fiscal Analysts' and on Irving Berlin’s 'Let’s Face the Music and Dance' — embellished by Coach York’s buoyant drums — captivates.
And she has her moment of augury with: “Before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance.” Cabaret and truth have rarely found such an amalgam.
Chris Searle - Morning Star
In Kate Westbrook’s latest album from her regular outfit, The Granite Band, we have a cornucopia of emotions, poignant reminders, anger and dismay; but whilst it is disturbing at times, with particular contemporary relevance, the light shines through, however difficult it may seem.
The guitar-led accompaniment of 'The Streams Of Lovely Lucienne' starts brightly, although the closeness between doubt and certainty begins to be reflected in the music; melodic and flowing, but not for long, as nature’s gift of water is called into question. 'Threat Of Natural Disaster' is delivered with a German expressionist feel, Westbrook stridently spitting out the lyrics, supported by a dark, almost claustrophobic undercurrent of repetitive licks, electronic feedback adding to the menace.
The guitars are a feature of the music on the album, solos shared, reminding us of the Westbrook penchant, going back to early days of Chris Spedding. This is especially evident in Matthew North’s contribution on the arrangement of 'Bathing Belles And Fiscal Analysts' and Jesse Molins on 'Drowned In The Flood'.
It’s also an opportunity for saxophonist Roz Harding to show her undoubted talent and flexibility of approach, never failing to impress whether with the Westbrook Orchestra or in the smaller settings of Dave Holdsworth’s group or here. In 'Big Baby Hips', she adds to the dislocation of the distorted guitars, whilst her solo on 'Weltende Begins' mixes abstraction with pure notes, exploring the range of sound. Going into 'Weltende', her melodic alto leads into the poem of Jakob Van Hoddis, the catastrophic events given a theatrical cabaret slant.
An apocalyptic vision pervades the album, reflecting the effects of climate change, disaster and humankind’s disregard and stupidity, Kate Westbrook’s expressive and versatile voice ranging from bitterness and menace to dismay and cynicism. This is shown on an extraordinary version of Irving Berlin’s 'Let’s Face The Music And Dance' – an ironical and sardonic statement of hedonism and decadence. It’s not an invitation but an instructive warning of the inability to face consequences, the impending world conflict gaining momentum.
'Menace De Catastrophe Naturelle', although softened by its delivery in French, has the piano setting down a repetitive vamping, and with Coach York’s drums incessantly metronomic and Kate’s inflections, it succeeds in producing an underlying air of unease.
But it’s not all desolation and gloom. 'Storm Petrel' gives an inkling of optimism as it rises above those drowning and doomed in the quagmire. Harding strongly leads the theme as the bird, inevitably affected, manages to retain a freedom that separates it from the human condition. A straight reading by Billie Bottle’s lyrical piano accompanies the singer through the Rossini/Ferretti aria 'Once Upon A Time', having its focus on innocence and goodness.
The slightly ribald 'Rooster Rabelais’' slow introductory passage leads into a piece of lighter-hearted almost Vaudevillian hokum, interspersed with Harding’s clucking, squawking soprano mimicry of poultry, though darkness is never far away.
A thought-provoking album and an apposite image of the world in these difficult times. There is much to admire in the music and, it has to be said, in the sentiments expressed.
Matthew Wright - Jazz Journal
THE GRANITE BAND Kate Westbrook voice Roz Harding saxophones Jesse Molins guitar Matthew North guitar Billie Bottle bass guitar/voice Mike Westbrook piano Coach York drums
produced by Jay Auborn assisted by Callum Godfroy, Vikissim de Viku and Georgio Cortiani at dBs Pro Studios BRISTOL
Storm Petrel Kate Westbrook The Granite Band also on You Tube