Sparked by what lyricist Kate Wesbrook refers to as 'the astonishing parallels between the grotesque sideshows of the 19th-century fairground and the sinister undertones of the modern Internet', 'Waxeywork Show' is a five-part meditation on the dehumanising effects of spectacle, the corruption resulting from the seductive commercialisation of information, and the weirdly fascinating anomalous juxtapositions thrown up by the sheer miscellaneous nature of the world-wide web.
As in a waxwork exhibition, 'Jack the Ripper … 'this album provides an absorbing reminder of just how effective their unique blend of jazz and theatrical elements can be 'with space freak Buzz Aldrin must lie', or Chairman Mao rub shoulders with Muhammad Ali; the high-speed information superhighway reduces communities to instantly forgettable scenery; even apparently innocent activities such as shopping or Internet surfing provide multinationals with commercial information ('Tesco know what you had for your breakfast … Iceland knows what you've got in your freezer').
All this, set as it is to Mike Westbrook's pungent, powerful music vigorously performed by the Village Band, is flawlessly sung by the dramatic but musicianly Kate Westbrook, and the album is completed by a set of arrangements spanning decades of recorded jazz, from Jelly Roll Morton's 'Dead Man Blues' and Bessie Smith's 'Shipwreck Blues' to 'Monk's Mood' and Neal Hefti's delicious 'Lil' Darlin'.
Anyone who witnessed the Westbrooks' 2006 London Jazz Festival performances will already know how compelling their music is in a live setting; recorded in January 2007 in Dawlish, this album provides an absorbing reminder of just how effective their unique blend of jazz and theatrical elements can be.
Chris Parker - Vortex
A fine Westbrook entertainment, this. A short-ish cabaret piece, plus Mike's moody 'April 29th' coupled with several beautifully arranged standards - 'Good-bye Pork Pie Hat', 'Dead Man's Blues' and 'Monk's Mood' among them. One of Westy's great skills is his ability to create wonderful shapes and colours from limited resources. He simply relishes the challenge. The five section Waxeywork Show draws some fabulous playing from this group of west country musicians with Stan Willis particularly fine on alto. The music and Kate's lyrics gel perfectly to create a Dr. Calgari cum Todd Browning world of dark juxtapositions, where a carny of waxwork freaks dance. Kate must be the only person to ever put Jack the Ripper, Buzz Aldrin, Boadicea and David Beckham in one rhyming couplet. It's quite marvellous but no more so that Mike's affectionate arrangements of Jelly Roll Morton, Mingus, Monk and Bessie Smith ('Shipwreck Blues'). However, the band's takes on Tadd Dameron's evergreen 'If You Could See Me Now' and Neal Hefti's 'Lil Darlin' are the record's nostalgic triumphs. Music for then and now.
Duncan Heining - Jazzwise Dec 07 / Jan 08
Mike Westbrook Recordings
music Mike Westbrook
texts Kate Westbrook
1. (i) Gizzards all gory
2. (ii) Juxtapositions
3. (iii) Scattered and cold
4. (iv) Propositions
5. (v) A miasma of ghosts
Music Mike Westbrook texts Kate Westbrook
6. Dead Man Blues (Jelly Roll Morton)
7. Good-bye Pork Pie Hat (Charles Mingus)
8. If You Could See Me Now (Tadd Dameron)
9. April 29th (Mike Westbrook)
10. Lil' Darlin' (Neal Hefti)
11. Monk's Mood (Thelonius Monk)
12. Shipwreck Blues (Bessie Smith)
Arranged by Mike Westbrook
Produced by Jon Hiseman
Funded by Airshaft Trust
Distributed by Plastic Head Distribution
Mike and Kate Westbrook and the Village Band walk out on a precarious musical tightrope to find a new language for jazz of the 21st century. Daringly creative, Mike's complex freefall arrangements partner Kate's edgy lyrics in a compelling dialogue between voice and brass that jolts us out of our comfort zone.
Mike Brewer trumpet / flugelhorn, Kate Westbrook tenor horn / vocals. Sam Smith trombone,
Stan Willis alto saxophone, Gary Bayley tenor saxophone Mike Westbrook euphonium
For most jazz careers of magnitude relocating from The Smoke to Devon would be game over. But what does Mike Westbrook do? Upon arriving in Dawlish he trawls the local music scene and hooks himself up with one of the most creatively hardcore bands of his career. And then, at the end of 2006, the Westbrook Village Band return to the metropolis, their country ways showing us city bumpkins way to go as they score a major hit at that year’s London Jazz Festival.
The Westbrooks have never been ones for the jazz business. 'The Waxeywork Show is a triumphant record that demonstrates staunch commitment to fundamentals - finding new expressive possibilities from within the depth of jazz tradition'It’s fair to say that the pernicious influence of Parky Jazz (good news - the bore of Barnsley has quit!) hasn’t done them any favours, and against that background The Waxeywork Show is a triumphant record that demonstrates staunch commitment to fundamentals - finding new expressive possibilities from within the depth of jazz tradition and risk-taking with a purpose.
The tradition is lovingly embraced in a sequence of jazz waybacks. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Dead Man Blues” and Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” make an imposing pairing, unexpectedly so perhaps until you consider how important Jelly Roll was to Mingus. “Monk’s Mood” rendered for brass is heart-stoppingly tasty, while “Lil’ Darlin’” shows Mike’s respect for the conceptual perfection of Neal Hefti’s original Basie chart. He then drops a googly - just how often do you hear Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” covered?
For musicians who hadn’t had any professional exposure, the consistently high level of the instrumental playing is revelatory. Stan Willis’s alto is steeped in Johnny Hodges and Mike Brewer is a powerful lead trumpeter; his fulsome high notes behind Kate Westbrook on Bessie Smith’s “Shipwreck Blues” are pitched with unerring accuracy both to the note and to spirit. But this being a Westbrook record, the musicians are also challenged with a tricky new thirty minute composition, “The Waxeywork Show”. Kate’s scenario explores parallels between 19th Century freak shows and the internet: “both have the power to corrupt through fascination,” she asserts. The piece climaxes with a nightmarish montage, like competing layers of musical activity are downloading simultaneously. The musicians have to pass through intricate bi-tonal harmonies and punchy grooves to get there; them Westbrooks remain plugged into the zeitgeist, creating bold music that’s fizzy with contemporary relevance.
Philip Clark - Jazz Review
Feb/March 08 - Editor's Choice
The Village Band
Excerpt from the sleeve notes
Catania - Live in Sicily 1992
Earth Felt The Wound
Love and Understanding
The School of Jolly Dogs
Says The Duke 2022
London Bridge Live in Zűrich 1990
the piano and me
Says The Duke 2020
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