MA: The Last

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: MA
LABELS: LOOP
WORKS: The Last
PERFORMER: Tom Challenger (sax), Matt Calvent (electronics), Dave Smith (drums), Ross Stanley (org)
CATALOGUE NO: Loop 1014

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In an anecdote sometimes attributed to Louis Armstrong, sometimes to Fats Waller, a woman asks, ‘what is jazz?’ only to be told, ‘Lady, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.’ With MA, you may feel you gotta ask ‘is this jazz?’ and beards and other purists will probably never be convinced that it is. But if it’s not, where do you pigeonhole it? There are elements of dub, electronica, fusion and (less obviously) admiration for Messiaen, especially from Tom Challenger, but I was too busy enjoying the music to worry about categorisations.

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Underlying most of the tracks, all composed or co-composed by Challenger, there are dark, ominous, floor-shuddering beats, drones and bass patterns over which impassioned sax lines soar, acrid clouds of electronics drift, and complex percussion patterns snap and scutter. Sometimes the temperature drops, but the tension never lets up. It’s an album that demands active listening, and deserves it. Barry Witherden