A tantalising debut statement from a promising new act
Martin Leitch
15:07 26th July 2021

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It's no secret that Bristol has long been one of the UK's most creative cities; its roster of acclaimed musical outfits—both historic and contemporary—set it on par with the bulk of the country's other great regional scenes and, particularly in recent years, the city has witnessed a veritable boon in creative acts intent on recontextualising and reinventing the decade-spanning soul-jazz tradition.

Taking as much influence from the sample-heavy hip-hop of the '90s as from the private press instrumental rarities and library music gems of the '60s and '70s, such bands have tended to be keen on setting themselves apart from the nostalgia-peddlers of the world. Daring and resolutely fresh-faced, such acts wear their nods to modernity as badges of honour, even if the creative lineage to which they belong exists beyond living memory. 

The latest act to emerge from this forward-thinking, retro-futuristic zeitgeist are Snazzback, a Bristolian septet whose jumpy take on neo-soul inflected future-jazz takes the mesmeric poly-rhythms of 20th century minimalism and grafts them onto beguiling melodic progressions of early '70s alt-jazz. Cult heroes such as Lloyd McNeill and Harold Alexander are evoked at times, even if Snazzback's output is primarily filtered through the prism of more recent favourites like Sons Of Kemet and Kamasi Washington.

Truthfully, Snazzback's debut—entitled In The Place—boasts such eclectic compositions and such a diverse stylistic palette that its nine songs don't quite manage to fall into the most cohesive of wholes. Occasionally a little too scattershot, the album at times feels more like a proof of concept for a clutch of truly great ideas than a definitive statement in itself but, be that as it may, there's much to enjoy here. 

Opening cut 'Alice' is a definite standout, its confidently-delivered vocal part—courtesy of one China Bowls—being enough in itself to elevate an already great instrumental backing to truly impressive standards. Likewise, the ambitious 'Reading'—a ten minute avant-jazz workout, rich in eager rhythms and melodic cascades—is a barnstormer. Though perhaps not yet as compositionally distinct from their influences as the most refined of their peers - for better or worse, it isn't difficult to detect a litany of (admittedly refined) influences within the band's sound - there's no denying that In The Place announces Snazzback as an act whose output should be followed carefully over the coming years.

Released through Bristol's recently-established Worm Discs, In The Place arrives on shelves as an attractive, heavy-weight slab of black vinyl manufactured by Germany's rarefied Pallas pressing plant. Amongst the most comprehensive and consistently reliable of all vinyl producers, Pallas boast a history stretching back into the late '40s - a fact which lends the institution as it stands today a wealth of experience that has allowed them to produce some of the most consistently impressive records of the modern era.

Their output tends to boast scrupulously clean surfaces - both from a visual and an auditory perspective - and their pressing of Snazzback's debut is no expectation. The lustrous surfaces on our copy certainly promise much and, impressively, the audio itself more than meets that precedent. It's a well mastered album, with a dynamic soundstage which swells in time with the crescendos and lulls of the music itself. In the case of our copy, we didn't pick up on so much as a single stray crackle - much less anything as egregious as a pop or a click - and, coupled with the record's whisper-quiet noise floor, this certainly stands as the most commendable pressing we've heard in a good while.

Jazz has always been a vital music and, reflective of that, it's a style which has tended to inspire some truly memorable artwork—imagery which has often adorned the album covers of the style's greats. It should be of little surprise, therefore, that Snazzback—as a group within the latest generation of artists to tap into that artistic lineage—have opted to adorn their debut's sleeve with the vibrant splash of colour that is its artwork.

Evocative and immediately suggestive of the music contained within, it's an entirely fitting visual representation of the sounds that the group have cooked up for In The Place. The cover itself isn't of unusually high quality; its mid-weight cardstock feels fine in hand and its non-gatefold, standard-width cover is entirely sufficient for the single LP contained within but, by the same flip of the coin, we have seen more luxuriously packaged releases from comparable bands. The inclusion of a full-colour insert is certainly welcome, though; in addition to offering the same artwork as that found on the cover, it also provides the listener with liner notes, images of the band and full credits.

As the debut statement from a promising new act, In The Place serves both as a tantalising suggestion of that still to come and an engaging collection in its own right. Though there's room here for improvement, this nevertheless is an impressive album from an evidently talented band and, in their impeccable vinyl release of the album, Worm Discs confirm themselves to be a label intent on producing the highest-quality product of its price-point.


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