Modern appetites for jazz fusion haven’t changed a great deal. It’s still generally regarded by alternate rock and pop music fans as either stuffy and academic, or riddled with long jam excursions requiring undue perseverance.
Nugget, like The Bad Plus, write music that demands a re-evaluation of those perceptions, drawing cross-genre influence from math rock and dance/funk. What’s more, each of the young members of Nugget has credentials.
Julien Baraness studied at Berklee College of music, is a sound engineer, and has his own production company. Drummer Jamie Murray has shared the festival stage with the likes of Ginger Baker, and bassist Alex Lofoco runs workshops aimed at developing music skills, in particular understanding rhythm sections in funk and rock music. Each of them has rock and jazz influences, from Tony Williams, to Weather Report, to Iron Maiden and Queen.
Now, if I’d only read that last bit I’d be sceptical, but the results on Nugget’s EP Watercolour are more internally consistent than those influences suggest. In fact, by and large, Nugget stick to a rockier modern jazz-funk sound, very much like John McLaughlin’s recent albums with The 4th Dimension (To the One and Now Hear This ). It seems immodest to call the album Watercolour because the palette is much brighter, with exciting and stark contrasts in mood.
Opener ‘Nugget Jnr’ starts out with the sound of needle hitting acetate, telegraphing a modern album in thrall to the old vinyl greats. The guitar performs the chords in a rhythmic fashion, setting out the groove, with the drummer hitting the rims with a Latin feel. The initial sparsely deployed guitar voicings make way for a groovier ensemble with the bass undertaking the melody, and the guitar picking up more of the melodic schtick with chord progressions, and arpeggios associated with the chords.
The sound is distinctly one arising from jazz performance, but with one important difference. The freewheeling guitar solo on ‘Nugget Jnr’ takes the melody and dumps it into cascading runs, and walls of sound. Great stuff. The band playfully engages in cat and mouse, cajoling one another with constant tempo changes which are never less than interesting, and often exhilarating.
‘Fairfax Pickup’ starts out like one of those old spy soundtracks unearthed by Ace on Come Spy With Us, with scanty chords and walking bass. The guitar reminds me of Larry Coryell, one of the great electric psych-jazz-rock performers. The bass and rolling drums towards the end are booty-ass funky.
‘Badboy.0’ appears with its seemingly dolorous persona, all subtle wah-wah and bendy strings. Then the ensemble starts to cook but the raised temperature is only momentary, with that beautifully judged excursion reigned in by more tongue-in-cheek melancholy. Alas, this mood is interrupted once again with some great dance moves, and bluesy guitar more in the mould of B.B King.
The track keeps messing with you but is never less than powerful. Anyone uncertain of just how a bass guitar can play a very effective primary melody, needs to listen to this. Move over, Stanley Clarke.
‘Cheese Meister’ is a track given over to rhythm totally. Playing like a Nugget greatest hits medley, cutting and thrusting across themes, the electric guitar opens out in another mini-freak-out. ‘Two’s a Crowd’ opens out with African-style percussion, the guitar gaining volume and traction as the band is again led in unison to many climax points, murmurs of post-rock coming to mind.
A word about the production. Immaculate.
Listen to ‘Cheese Meister’ here: SoundBlab or NUGGET release free download of ‘Cheese Meister’ – Circuit Sweet