I’ve never been much of a Jazz or Soul aficionado, but I gave a bit of my time to check out “Topiary”, the new release from Freshly Cut Grass and I do not regret my experience in the slightest. In fact, it was quite refreshing to put my focus on a style of music that isn’t as brash sounding as my own usual personal listening preferences. The band describe themselves as meeting at the crossroads between Frank Zappa and Snarky Puppy, and being a fan of Zappa myself, I can hear some of the influence shining through the album as it rolls along at a nice steady pace.
Kicking off with “The Bipolar Jazz Overture”, the name as it suggests is an instrumental shifting its way between the vibe of a soundtrack to a 60s romantic cult film and an almost druid like death march. All glued together nicely with smooth undertones and relaxed jabs of brass instrumentation. We are greeted with the second track “Funk Enigma” which is pretty catchy, upbeat and dance-able from the get go! A warm set of vocals accompany the track, with a Northern Soul-esque delivery and a swell of horns, delivering little bursts of excitement here and there.
“London in His Eyes” has an intro guitar riff reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers during their prime, but quickly enough the feel of the song changes to much more of a chilled-out affair. This is the sort of song you’d hear at an underground speakeasy, being performed live by the resident house band on arrival. I like the use of xylophone/marimba towards the end of the track, almost duelling with the sporadic guitar licks littered throughout. The next track “Life I’m Working On” has a Manhattan autumn afternoon feel to it, exploring the city with a warm cup of coffee in hand, searching for the next hopeful escapade. These songs have quite a consistent charm to them which I could imagine spinning on my vinyl player in the early hours of the morning, complimented with a bottle of white wine and my favourite comfy dressing gown.
Then we stumble into the progressive experimental jazz odyssey “The Last Melon”, much more akin to the work of Mr. Zappa that I was expecting. There are plenty of infrequent musical motifs and different fragmented instrumental sections playing from all over the place (even with a bit of added theremin too it seems!). Translating tunefully for the descent into madness, simultaneously being the cure-all shock therapy treatment at the same time. “After Hours” opens with a little acoustic guitar and more of those soft vibrant vocals which are darted around the album. This gives us more of a tranquil feel, breaking up the album nicely.
The infectious sway of “Work to Be Done” delivers a consistent flow of previous sounds and styles presented on the album, taking its strengths to wrap up the best of everything so far into one single track. Upgraded from the speakeasy to the big band swing joint, we get a nice divide of bouncy instrumentation and smooth vocal delivery, tied up together effortlessly with a George Harrison like guitar solo near the end of the track. Final track “Roots” ends the album with its polished determination and an optimistic aura. I am enjoying the horns, percussive blocks, organs, layered vocals, plus a bombastic electric guitar solo, that seemingly comes of nowhere with what I expected to be more of a reserved ending to a great first time listen of the record.
In conclusion, I’m glad that I stepped up the challenge of giving something I wouldn’t usually listen to a shot, as it’s proved to quite the captivating audible experience! The band (or is it a collective?) states on their Facebook page that they bring a “vintage groove based rhythm section under exploratory guitars and innovative horns creating an ‘old sound in a modern life’, and I can’t argue with that. This is quite a mellow, but also very dynamic album which I highly recommend that you check out. The production is fantastic, the use of different instruments and ways in which they are implemented is nothing short of incredible and you will find comfort listening to these familiar sounds with their own original flair.
Mitchell Tennant – 21/03/21