[FUNKY DARK JAZZ] In 2010, the Performing Right Society for Music in the U.K. proclaimed Bristol the most musical town in England. Its sole criterion was the number of musicians born and raised in the city. And it's hard to argue the point when looking at some of the acts that have come to fruition in Bristol in the past few decades: the dark electronic Portishead and Massive Attack; drum-'n'-bass pioneers Roni Size and Reprazent; even reggae-inflected post-punkers the Pop Group.
One corner of this musical city yet to be explored by outside interests is Bristol's rich jazz scene.
"It's pretty vibrant," says Pete Judge, trumpet player for Get the Blessing. "There's lots of great stuff happening on the edges of what you'd call jazz. And it's pollinating the different scenes going on around the city. It's exciting for us because that's how you are able to get pushed in different directions."
Listening to Get the Blessing's latest album, OCDC, the sense of how the various sounds of Bristol and beyond have sunk into the skin of the band is palpable. Of course, some of that feeling comes from knowing that its members are often busy with other projects—drummer Clive Deamer is a member of both Radiohead and Portishead. Mostly, though, a feeling of cross-pollination flows right out of the speakers as OCDC plays. The title track features spiraling tenor sax lines courtesy of Jake McMurchie alongside a fuzzed-out bass line and soul claps. Other cuts, like "Between Fear and Sex" and "Pentopia," layer dub effects and motorik keyboard riffs underneath sturdy melodies.
What OCDC and the other two albums that Get the Blessing has recorded since the band formed in 2000 is the same giddy disregard of the jazz playbook that so many of the group's influences took great pride in. In fact, one titan of the avant jazz world helped bring the quartet together 12 years ago.
"We spent a long time being an Ornette Coleman tribute band," remembers McMurchie, conferenced in on Skype with Judge. "We started the band for a bit of fun, just playing these songs in [bassist] Jim Barr's studio when it was free. We had no intention of gigging, or anything else. So it took us a few years to work out that we really liked it and that we should try to write some music.â
Since that collective epiphany, Get the Blessing now adores playing live, using stages in its hometown and around the world to help shape and inform songs, which can take upward of five years for the band to commit to tape. Even then, Judge says, songs continue to evolve: "We'll still turn them upside down. We can go in all sorts of different directions. We're certainly more polished live now, but we're more likely to take liberties than we used to."
As far out as the music gets, there is still a pop heart beating at its core. To that end, one wonders whether this tour, which finds the quartet booked almost exclusively in jazz venues and festivals, is somehow meant to cement its bop bona fides.
"It's not a deliberate effort," says McMurchie. "[But] that's where our natural home is. That said, we can play to the sit-down jazz crowds or at rock fests like All Tomorrow's Parties. And lots of things in between. One of my favorite things is when someone comes up to me after a show and says, 'I don't really like jazz, but I like what you're doing.'"
SEE IT: Get the Blessing plays Ivories Jazz Lounge, 1435 NW Flanders St., on Tuesday, June 26. 7 and 9 pm. $7. 21+.