An intriguing, though not always accessible listen.
Jon Lusk 2008
Kent-based experimental musician Matthew Herbert has come a long way since his performing debut in 1995, when he used a bag of crisps as an instrument. Since then, he's made numerous albums under his own name and a bewildering array of aliases, as well as doing production work and remixes for the likes of Moloko, Björk and REM.
This is the second Matthew Herbert Big Band album and introduces Eska Mtungwazi as their new singer. She has a bold, brassy vocal style well suited to the arrangements, which feature an 8-piece horn section. Tuneful big band chutzpah dominates the first half of the album, with Yessness straying into show tune territory.
Herbert himself is presumably responsible for the occasional flurry on piano and all the samples and electronic effects that percolate through the mix like so much sonic detritus, at times detracting from the melodic strengths of his compositions (or not really adding to them) but at others creating engaging atmospherics, or half burying his lyrics. This has the effect of increasing their mystique and making you listen just that bit harder.
Even though the big band format isn't the most likely platform for it, Herbert is quite a political artist, declaring that, ''the themes of the album are broadly based around power in the 21st century…and its abuses…torture…Iraq war''. Thus the bustling Battery has Mtungwazi chanting, ''Blindfolded! Hooded! Shackled!'', and on Breathe, she's imploring us to, ''Breath a little more/buy a little less''.
The thinking behind Herbert's samples is esoteric to say the least (the sound of 70 pound coins rolling downstairs, a rattle of matches where one match equals one hundred thousand people dead in Iraq, etc) and you wouldn't deduce much of this from a casual listen. But when he focuses on sounds themselves, as on Nonsounds, which uses samples of a cricket, a sparrow chirping, traffic noises and a rooster crowing, the results are impressive for their playful inventiveness and unlikely musicality. At times overburdened by ideas, but at others sparking with them, There's Me… is an intriguing, though not always accessible listen.