Told Americans describe themselves as an “experimental jazz trio”, but although the truth of that three-word tag can’t be denied there’s another dimension to their music: the poetic prose of their bassist Mike Seal, recited or declaimed to the restless, ever shifting musical backdrop. The end product is a musical and dramatic experience that’s pretty much unique, at least in this day and age. Perhaps the nearest comparison that could be drawn is that of some of the work of The Liverpool Scene circa 1968-70 (when it transmuted into a rock group), possibly also with something of a Pete Brown sensibility. For, like the trio’s earlier EP, released in May last year, And The Grey Becomes One presents a collection of poetic musings on themed moods refracted through the lens of improvised jazz.
Typically, a Told Americans composition will begin with a couple of minutes or so of instrumental exposition to set the scene for the spoken-word contribution. This musical element may consist of a busy, freewheeling, tumbling improvisation around a specific motif (All The Things, Traffic), or a layered free-jazz-styled soundscape evoking a time and place (London City State), or an impressionistic song-style prelude (Which Side). It’s indicative of the trio’s deep-seated conviction and belief in the power of music as a communicative tool that the instrumental pieces into which the poetic prose is configured are so intrinsically satisfying – which is not to say they don’t need the spoken-word element, but that they would in many cases nevertheless stand up well as self-contained musical inventions. Interestingly in that context, penultimate track The Night Burns Bright In Belgrade is purely instrumental, bereft of any spoken-word, and really delivers as an organic, extended (just over ten-minute) tone-poem, providing one of the most satisfying of the album’s bespoke experiences.
The closing Which Side is also eerily evocative, and is built upon and around a wary, insistent pulsing beat and (unusually) a melodic acoustic baritone guitar figure; here, Mike doesn’t bring his prose in until the final minute or so, and this really makes an impression, leaving the listener stimulated and curiously energised – and, incidentally, rather inclined to return to the CD’s opening track (Other People’s Lives), which I thought a little reminiscent of early Soft Machine with its cool jazzy prog-rock vibe and song-like melody of irregular time-signature; this track culminates in a splendid electric guitar solo. Traffic snarls across the speakers like a literal depiction of the horrendous bustle, giving way to a vituperative rant containing some caustic observation. Lies trots out nuggets of contemporary wisdom with barely concealed irony, keeping the dictum “the bigger the lie the bigger the sell” for the punchline moment. London City State is probably the most melancholy and hard-hitting of the poetic commentaries as it reflects on the state of London City. Mike’s special brand of poetic prose has been dubbed “agitating”, for it kindof stirs both the emotions and the motivations; the simpatico musical backdrops from Christos Chatzispyrou (electric guitar, mandolin) and Kostas Bechlos (drums) are just brilliant, with never a note or nuance wasted. Told Americans possess an abundance of expert musicianship with energy, passion and a desire to truly experiment with preconceptions and push the artistic envelope to accurately express the ideas of the collective, and the result is unusual, stimulating and most invigorating.
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