Those who enjoy this might end up liking The Herbaliser’s back catalogue a little less
Chris Power 2009-08-18
Despite coming to prominence on Coldcut's Ninja Tune label as part of the UK's burgeoning mid-90s breakbeat and trip-hop scenes, the Herbaliser were always slightly apart from many of their apparently similar contemporaries. This was partly due to the inspiration core members Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry drew from vintage hip-hop – a genre of music they clearly knew about, rather than one they merely paid lip service to – and the way strived to eschew both trip-hop's tendency towards mindless navel-gazing and big beat's mindless... well, mindlessness.
Despite that, and the impressiveness of their longevity when so many of their peers from the class of 95 have disappeared entirely, the Herbaliser's instrumental work nevertheless remains a conservative proposal. Essentially retreading Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, John Barry and 70s-era Herbie Hancock, the addition of scratching and more contemporary beat patterns do little to differentiate contemporary jazz-funk (which, faddish sub-genre identifiers aside, this most certainly is) from the original records to which it’s indebted.
A sequel to 2000's Session One, which reinterpreted tracks from the band's first three albums in a live setting, Session 2 revisits tracks originally released between 1997 and 2008. In some cases (Mr Chombee Has the Flaw; Blackwater Drive) these live versions are almost note-for-note recreations of the originals, which begs the question why anyone but completists might want to get hold of them.
Elsewhere, however, the live rhythm section brings to life tracks which, when you return to the originals, sound leaden by comparison. The fraught percussion of Session 2's version of 1970s blaxploitation pastiche Geddim micturates out the window of a souped-up Ford Capri Mk II all over the original, while the increased sense of space the live rendering gifts to the claustrophobically dense Moon Sequence leaves the original sounding plastic and thin.
And therein dwells the conundrum presented by Session 2. When it fails it does so by clinging too tightly to its source material; when it succeeds it makes that source material sound inferior and outdated. Oddly, Herbaliser fans who enjoy Session 2 might just wind up liking the back catalogue of the band which produced it a little bit less.