“You want some real death-jazz?” screams The Agitator through a megaphone, to which an exuberant crowd responds with a gutteral “yeeeeeeaaaahhhhhhhhhhhooooooo!!!!!”. Moments later they’re jumping up and down to the strains of Suffocation, a cacophonous blend of latin and modal jazz turned up to 11, whilst the group of Japanese musicians fling themselves around the stage like they’re being pursued by a horde of bees.
It’s fair to say Gilles Peterson’s ‘Night Of Death Jazz’, which took place at Camden’s Roundhouse on Monday evening, was one of the more unorthodox jazz gigs we’ve witnessed. Even the term ‘death jazz’, one that Soil & Pimp Sessions have branded themselves with, is at once baffling and prescient; jazz is, after all, a style of music that has been declining in popularity and, some would say, relevance since the ‘50s. Are Soil & Pimp Sessions seeking to enliven the genre, or turn off its life-support machine?
Carry on reading after the break to find out.
Following a hastily snaffled Marathon kebab, we got to the Roundhouse just in time to catch support act The Neil Cowley Trio’s first number, How Do We Catch Up. The group places seemingly equal emphasis on composition and improvisation, veering between Radiohead-influenced murky instrumental jazz-rock and delicate solo piano sections that call on Debussy and Georges Auric. Cowley at times eschews melodies all together, instead favouring a chordal style of piano playing that owes a debt to McCoy Tyner. Enjoyable as their set is, the group only achieve an original sound at the end of the final tune, in which Cowley’s thunderous low piano combines with Richard Sadler’s double bass and Evan Jenkins’ drumming to create a beautifully malevolent soundscape.
After a markedly Gilles Peterson-esque DJ set from Radio One’s Fabio, Soil & Pimp Sessions take to the stage dressed flamboyantly in kimonos and eye-catching shiny headwear and launch into an astonishingly energetic rendition of Memai, the opening track of their second album ‘Pimp Of The Year’. The audience barely need any encouragement from the band’s front-man Shacho, otherwise known as The Agitator, who paces across the front of the stage yelling into a megaphone, urging the crowd to show even more appreciation. Saxophone and trumpet solos are kept short and concise, with more room allowed for pianist Josei to shine. It rapidly becomes clear that ‘death jazz’, a phrase repeatedly shouted by The Agitator, is more of a performance concept than a musical one. If there is anything innovative about Soil & Pimp Sessions, it is that they have rejected much of what most music fans find off-putting about jazz, namely the elongated self-indulgent solos, the hushed chin-stroking silence; even the fact that this gig is taking place in a standing gig venue is significant. Musically it amounts to little more than latin-inflected modal jazz played extremely loud and fast, but who cares when the stage-show is as compelling as Soil & Pimp’s?
In response to a gripping final number which sees Akita Goldman attack his double bass with a drum stick to stunning effect, the floorboards of the Roundhouse are thumped and Soil & Pimp Session return for an encore. We’re left feeling that Soil & Pimp Sessions are just what jazz needs right now: an operation to remove all that’s outdated, and a much-needed adrenalin shot in the arm.