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The Matthew Herbert Big Band: There's Me and There's You

The Matthew Herbert Big Band: There's Me and There's You

Release Date:2008

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 10/1/2008

Matthew Herbert and Simon Bookish have a lot in common. Both are English composers with formal training in their backgrounds: Herbert was a child-prodigy pianist and violinist who spent his adolescence in orchestras, while Bookish, born Leo Chadburn, attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Herbert majored in theater at Exeter and is composing for Broadway; Bookish has been working regularly with the National Theatre in London. And both have new albums that return to live instrumentation and away from their makers' better-known careers in electronic music.

There's Me and There's You is the second Matthew Herbert Big Band album, and like 2003's Goodbye Swingtime, there's something both dreamy and willful about it. Herbert is an outspoken political radical--the new album's cover is a petition for the idea of music as "a political force of note and not just the soundtrack to over-consumption"--and both albums feature cotton-candy orchestration bumping up against pointed lyrics. The first track, "The Story," straightforwardly chides the news media, taunting, "This is the story/ Read nothing about it," and the album's second half is thick with alienation effects.

There are long, very quiet stretches (even at good volume on a decent system) that make you think the album is over, such as the two-minute "Nonsounds" (just about what the title describes) and the opening half-minute of the next track, "Sound Tracks One Life." And the closing "Just Swing" features a vocal from Eska Mtungwazi that gets screechier as it goes, over horns that do the same. Herbert can be a sumptuous arranger, and his points are right on, but that doesn't mean combining them yields much more than the sum of their parts.

Simon Bookish has a knack for arranging things based on older sources, too. Where Herbert looks back to big-band jazz, the new Bookish album, Everything/Everything, leans explicitly toward modern classical, with a handful of blatant hat-tips to Steve Reich. The album's opener, "The Flood," opens up about two-thirds in to reveal a ticking-melodic-clockwork heart heavily reminiscent of Reich's epic 1974 composition, "Music for 18 Musicians," and similar motifs dot the album throughout, as on "Synchrotron" and "Alsatian Dog."

Bookish is much more of a straightforward singer/songwriter than Herbert, who usually gives his work to others to sing. But Bookish's lyrics are so arch it's hard to imagine many singers able to make much of them, and his own post-David Bowie actorliness makes bad lines worse, such as the oh-so-dolefully rendered "Let me show you an orphan," repeated many times at the close of "A Crack in Larsen C." But he's got some verve, and the music surrounding him is often enough to make you notice it instead. Often--but not always. (MM) H

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