Led Bib broadens its reach and deepens its complexity on The People in Your Neighbourhood, the rambunctious British quintet’s fifth proper studio album. The group-drummer Mark Holub, bassist Liran Donin, keyboard player Toby McLaren and dueling alto saxophonists Pete Grogan and Chris Williams-is harder to categorize than ever: Many of these 11 compositions have distinct movements reminiscent of art rock; the bombast suggests the decadence of arena rock and heavy metal; and the attitude is full-on punk. But what reigns supreme is sophisticated improvisation, a.k.a. jazz.
Despite the pronounced aggression, other moods-celebration, nostalgia-prevail. A buoyant rhythm and theme introduce the joyful “New Teles,” before thrashing drums, throbbing bass and electronic blasts disrupt the party. The brooding prologue of “Giant Bean” sounds like a minor-key dirge as played by Iron Maiden, but the song shifts abruptly: One sax blows sustained notes while the other squawks-and then the song transforms yet again (there’s that complexity) with an entirely new rhythm, bassline and chord structure. More complexity: “Curly Kale” keeps changing time signatures-four bars of 3/4 plus one extra beat, then 7/8 for a spell and then repeating two-bar phrases in 4/4. “Orphan Elephants,” taken in 7/8 with a vague reggae feel, bounces along on a beat that evokes a baby elephant’s gait, then grows so quiet it’s barely there, then finally evolves into an epic. Indeed, The People in Your Neighbourhood is not all storm; quiet moments are valued, as revealed by “Angry Waters (Lost to Sea),” which begins as a pretty ballad before swirling into a hurricane, and by the melancholic “Recycling Saga.”
Led Bib has also issued a live vinyl record (and digital download), The Good Egg, drawn from a concert at the Vortex Jazz Club in London. Three of the four songs are repeated from The People in Your Neighbourhood, but they are longer and given over to more individual expression. In the studio, Led Bib doesn’t get into much soloing, preferring group improv. On The Good Egg, the musicians both stretch out and lay out. There’s a pretty sax-and-bass exchange on “Giant Bean,” a sweet piano-and-sax conversation on “Recycling Saga,” and a belligerent solo by McLaren on distorted electric piano that constitutes the most invigorating passage on either album. Oddly, the live record offers a glimpse at a less aggressive side of Led Bib, but both albums are fantastic installments from a band that continues to be a lot of fun to watch and hear.