Wild Mercury Sound

Matthew E White and the new Uncut

Matthew E White and the new Uncut
John Mulvey

Three weeks and a few hours ago, I found myself on a small plane from Richmond, Virginia, to Washington DC. Most of the other passengers were members of the Harvard baseball team, who had spent the past three hours being harassed by schoolgirls making innumerable Harlem Shake videos. I, though, was sat next to a woman from Colorado, who was studying the use of horses in Gestalt therapy.

The Harvard baseball team had, I think, just been beaten by Virginia Commonwealth University, who were enjoying a decent sporting run. On the Saturday, their basketball team had thrashed Butler 84 to 52: I know this, because the game had been on TV while I tried to explain the rules of cricket to a characteristically patient Matthew E White and his bandmate/housemate Pinson Chanselle.

I spent the weekend with White, and his extended Spacebomb family, for a feature which appears in this week’s new issue of Uncut. The marvellous “Big Inner”, it transpires, was mostly recorded in the attic of White’s smallish Richmond pad, next door to that of a builder called DJ Doug who had, apparently, converted his house into a nightclub of sorts.

On the Friday night, White opened up his house as a venue, too, hosting something called Free Jazz Friday. The prehistory of Spacebomb and “Big Inner” is to some extent rooted in a local jazz scene that White and his contemporaries helped establish, via the jazz programme at VCU, and consequently the players entertaining about 40 people in the Spacebomb loft were part of the 30-or-so strong crew who contributed to “Big Inner”. First, a trombonist called Bryan Hooten played a solo set of disconcerting moans, blowing/singing hybrids, Colin Stetson-ish ambience, insectivorous grind and something inspired by Dune.

Then, more conventionally, there was a set by the Scott Clark 4Tet, with a rhythm section of Clark (second drummer, alongside Chanselle, in White’s touring band) and Cameron Ralston (the constant bassist in the Spacebomb House Band). I was pretty jetlagged, and distracted by an over-excited terrier and Ralston’s toddler, but they referenced Ornette Coleman and Fred Anderson quite a lot and sounded great…

From the outside, reading a bunch of stories about White and his scene, it can be hard to tell whether such a fertile generation of players are typical in most medium-sized American cities. On the ground, though, and digging into the music they’ve made in the past, it’s clear there’s an unusual richness and depth here – notably the Fight The Big Bull big band…

… and my personal favourites, Trey Pollard’s Old New Things…

Pollard took the lead at a practice/demo session that I sat in on, as he, White, Ralston and Chanselle worked on a new tune built on a kind of sprung Meters groove, then overlaid with a piano line from Pollard that began like something by Leon Russell before slowly evolving into a spacey meditation closer in spirit to Bill Evans. It was all nothing like most people’s idea of a rock band rehearsal, mostly because the Spacebomb quartet are nothing like a rock band, being four virtuoso jazz players assiduously poring over sheet music.

A great and privileged trip – and hopefully, an interesting feature. The new issue is out on Thursday, I think (hopefully subscribers will get copies a little earlier than that), and also features The Who, Cream, a lovely piece about Kevin Ayers, Graham Nash, Steve Martin, Swans, Jeff Lynne, Kurt Vile, Shuggie Otis, Davy Graham and The Pastels.

And besides the White/Spacebomb backstory, there’s also a clue or two about what they might do next. As revealed in the “Big Inner” sleevenotes, there’s a Nashville singer-songwriter on their books called Natalie Prass who sounds especially good. Have a look at one last link and see what you think…

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