Album Review: Benet McLean – The Bopped and The Bopless
The Bopped and
McLean is a true polymath; pianist, guitarist, vocalist, violinist, writer, arranger and producer, he’s on a musical journey that’s included such diverse adventures as receiving mentoring from Yehudi Menuhin at the Royal College of Music and touring with Brit-soul legend Omar. This album presents him unleashing the full strength of his musical personality in a set of muscular jazz-derived originals and a couple of unusual covers, delivered by a tight and punchy band – including local hero and international man of mystery Ashley Slater – and crisply and cleanly recorded for maximum impact. The title track sets out his stall – his full, fruity, jazz-inflected vocals deliver a powerful lyric decrying social inequality, before the band takes flight for a virtuosic swing-time piano solo complete with Monk quotes. I Waited For You sets off at a canter into full-on fusion territory, with the piano evoking Hancock and Corea over Harvey and Raman’s top-draw rhythm section as overdubbed strings and brass create sweeping orchestral textures.
Babylon’s Burning creates an unlikely punk-jazz hybrid, with McLean’s snarling vocals over the dense twisting arrangement recalling the kind of virtuosic mash-ups you’d find on a Frank Zappa record. It’s unashamedly flashy, totally excessive and brilliantly bonkers. Like his fellow Brit multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, McLean is bursting with seemingly limitless talent and utterly uninterested in restraint or understatement. Lucy sees him create a choir of multi-octave voices in dazzling harmony, then allows Harvey to stretch out on a prodigious solo, followed by scat and piano from the leader over triumphant brass and woodwind. Polly is a lachrymose ballad enlivened by unexpected key shifts and vocalese effects; Electric Bopland delivers on it’s title exactly; Shizannah reworks Faure into a work of high drama that could sit well as a piece of musical theatre. Credit goes to McLean, and to his truly outstanding band, for pulling all these diverse strands together into a work that’s as strong and cohesive as it is dazzlingly, even bewilderingly, adventurous. Don’t miss the live shows.
Benet McLean, vocals, piano, violin; Gareth Lockrane, flute; Noel Langley, trumpet; Duncan Eagles, tenor sax; Ashley Slater, trombone; Jonathan Harvey, bass; Donald Gamble, percussion; Saleem Raman, drums; Isabella-Maria Asbjornsen, harp; Aydenne Simone, vocals; Jason Yarde, alto/baritone sax.
The Bopped and The Bopless is out now on the 33Xtreme label.