Published on 26th February 2020
Pee Bee – Or Not to Be
For a band from France, the new album from jazz collective Pee Bee is as British as the red telephone box on the cover. Maybe not surprising given that co-founder and bassist Gary Brunton is an ex-pat Burnley boy and dyed in the wool Clarets fan, but how he managed to convince the rest of the 12-strong Paris-based troupe to run with it would probably be worthy of a documentary. However, as the band’s previous album, 2017’s Dolce Vita, was a tribute to the Italian heritage of the other founder, saxophonist Claudio Pallaro, it’s only fair.
Now four albums old, after their debut in 2009, Pee Bee have fully bedded in as a unit that seeks to step outside jazz norms, as can be seen here as they deploy a wide range of unexpected influences to colour the theme on this new album. It’s a fun environment and Pee Bee have established a quietly anarchic culture that keeps the music away from the chin-stroking density that could put non-jazzers off. As such, it’s an exuberant and highly enjoyable listen that takes in current affairs and pop culture from the ’60s and ’70s within quirky arrangements, all put together by a wide-ranging and technically accomplished group of musicians.
The styles vary throughout the set but the class of those involved shines through and they must be a blast to see live, the available instrumentation allowing the scope to take the music wherever they wish. From the funky bass-led intro to United We Stand, brass introduces singer Sandrine Deschamps and we’re drawn into an almost Swinging London world of British lyrical references. There’s drive and variety with a lovely vibraphone solo from David Patrois and references from Buzzcocks Ever Fallen in Love seamlessly woven in by the saxophones. The choice to add a tabla rhythm is inspired and it’s a winning opening.
Familiar themes and suggestions appear as if by magic, rock and pop as much an influence as jazz as Free At Last‘s trumpet-led smoky vibe leads into a lovely brass arrangement with vibraphone that references the Beatles’ Something, Sandrine’s melancholy verses opening out into a swinging full-band with relaxed sax soloing. The third track is not afraid to take on the subject that has ripped Britain apart over the last few years, and which isn’t going to go away any time soon, probably taking with it any chance of seeing Pee Bee play in ‘this sceptred isle’, much to Gary’s dismay I imagine. With a sinister noir feel amid clever musical inferences to Coronation Street (and is that a Batman fanfare?), the ongoing multi-sided discontent is set against the deeply rooted need for a nice strong cup of tea in cheekily stereotypical style, all delivered with warmth and obvious regret for the choices made.
It’s all beautifully put together, the sprightly Hands Together, Eyes Closed is pure jazz, but with the quoted lines from Bread of Heaven/Cwm Rhondda unexpectedly bringing in Welsh chapel prayers. Trumpets and trombones take the lead before The Queen Thing develops abruptly from a frenetic cop show theme into a sedate acoustic guitar elegy for Freddie Mercury, sung beautifully by Sandrine with brass arrangements again excellent. Kind of Green is a loose jazz take on Greensleeves, slinky sax to the fore, while the reference of the equally loose Genesium is not immediately apparent, eventually emerging from pastoral swathes with a theme from Genesis’ Cinema Show. Mystery Travel‘s sinister ticking snare opens into a double bass section from Brunton and a wall of brass before A Hymn to England brings the British theme full circle, incorporating a jazzed up God Save the Queen.
After trecking through punk, traditional folk, prog, pomp, circumstance and more, what better way to round things off than with a rollicking nod to the Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction? Satisfaction guaranteed. It’s been fun and the joie de vivre is strong in this one.
The compositions are ingenious and quite lovely, the depth of the instrumentation allowing them to be heard to their best effect, and this is a wonderfully varied set of songs with a collective subversive wink. Hats off to Claudio Pallaro and Gary Brunton for bringing it all together so successfully. The references and musical quotes are appropriately chosen and speak of underlying British cultural themes with a warm appreciation. A highly recommended listen for all, not just those with a liking for extended ensemble jazz groups.
01. United We Stand (4:34)
02. Free at Last (6:20)
03. Brexit (4:38)
04. Hands Together, Eyes Closed (4:43)
05. The Queen Thing (7:51)
06. Kind of Green (4:36)
07. Genesium (8:14)
08. Mystery Travel (4:02)
09. A Hymn to England (4:55)
10. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (5:18)
Total time – 55:11
Claudio Pallaro – Tenor Saxophone
Gary Brunton – Electric & Double Bass, Tabla, Voice
Sandrine Deschamps – Voice
David Patrois – Vibraphone
Luc Isenmann – Drums
Frédéric Loiseau – Guitar
Gilles Relisieux – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Jérémie Bernard – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Didier Haboyan – Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute
Éric Desbois – Baritone & Soprano Saxophone
Vincent Renaudineau – Trombone
Daniele Israel – Trombone
Record Label: Juste une Trace
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 28th February 2020