Premiere: The Golden Age of Steam – “Loftopus pt.5”

Those keeping track of the somewhat serpentine career of James Allsopp will be well aware of his rise as perhaps the most gifted British saxophonist of his generation, not to mention the most adaptable. Having started out with the acclaimed Fraud quintet, whose self-titled debut was nominated for a BBC Jazz Award in 2007 (they won the “Innovation Award” the following year), he’s been many an experimentalist’s go-to sideman ever since.  Most recently he has formed a part of the mighty Sly & The Family Drone, bringing shrill Olsonian sax blasts to the UK noise band’s increasingly urgent howls of despair, and stints with Polar Bear, The F-IRE Collective’s Vitor Pereira Quintet, and London slime-rockers Snack Family – as well as a slew of other modern jazz luminaries – pepper his past like so many split reeds. 

He can play the leader too, though, as his work with drummer Tim Giles and the award-winning keyboard virtuoso Kit Downes in The Golden Age of Steam attests.  The forthcoming LP Tomato Brain, due early next month, will be their third outing following 2012’s Lynchian Welcome to Bat Country, on which they recruited now-permanent members Alex Bonney and Ruth Goller. Incredibly, the quintet’s insatiable hunt for boundaries to smash has only increased in its intensity across the intervening years. 

Perhaps informed by Allsopp’s involvement with some of the more outré acts on offer in the UK, which is not to say he isn’t capable of outdoing all of them on his day, Tomato Brain takes the form of a long one-take jam named “Loftopus.” Based around the merest of guidelines laid down by the leader, it is unnervingly chill at the outset.  All Hancockian gloop and sighing rooftop croon, the piece draws band members into its throbbing core slowly – not until it’s mid-point does anything resembling true motion become fully apparent, and then it lights up like a descending UFO.  With Goller’s bass driving subliminally into the cranial floor Bonney’s electronics are allowed to penetrate and force compliance – Allsopp soars through with smooth lucidity as Giles scatters cells and Downes swirls the psychedelic pot.  It’s a wonderfully patient and intoxicating piece of work, with nary a note wasted on its journey from the haunted radiophonic workshop of its eerie opening bars to the mangled Arecibo message that floods its closing moments. 

Underscore is thrilled to have been chosen to celebrate the release Tomato Brain with an exclusive stream of “Loftopus pt.5” and we hope you enjoy listening. Click through here to pick up your copy of the record from the limitedNOISE label; we recommend you pay this one full attention.