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Hobgoblin Records HOBCD1004

'All Jigged Out is possibly what you’d first imagine a listener to feel like after playing through this exhilarating hour-long parade of instrumental dexterity – though I wouldn’t want to “wish hill” of anyone in the process (pardon the unnecessary aitch!), for it’s not in any sense an ordeal…!

The tight, often purposefully funky jazz vibe that AJO instigate and propagate gives them a fairly unique sound, albeit one for which the concepts of crossover and fusion might well have been invented.  The AJO history is impressive too: founder members Philippe Barnes (flute) and Ben Lee (violin) reached the finals of the Young Folk Awards as teenagers, since when they’ve amassed a diverse array of credentials for their individual CVs.   Philippe has toured with the Irish Folk Ballet Company, Candela and Licence To Ceilidh, as well as releasing a duo CD with another fellow-AJO-member, pianist Tom Phelan; while Ben, an RCM graduate, has (already!) worked with all manner of acts from the Arctic Monkeys to the Jazz Heritage Orchestra. Drummer Ollie Boorman completes the main line-up, with Dan Dotor and André Fry sharing out the bass duties here on the album sessions.

The musicians take responsibility for their own creativity, with highly intelligent and innovative arrangements of traditional tunes (on less than half of the tracks) seamlessly integrated into and alongside original compositions by (mostly) Philippe and/or Ben.  These demonstrate a stunning level of assuredness and breadth of musical scope, with a concomitant blend of improvisatory fluidity and high-level structuredness that inevitably stems directly from their jazz experiences and leanings – not many ensembles manage to bring this kind of thing off, but AJO sure do – and take it further than most in the process!  All the musicians involved play with a startling degree of accomplishment that (despite the fact that the pieces are all consciously arranged) is not in any sense auto-pilot.  Instead, their playing (solo and ensemble work alike) has a vital edge and drive, and proves to be more musically aware than the average note-spinners of the session world or the more strictly folky players might wish to embrace in their own take on experimenting.  Ben’s playing in particular is extraordinary, also quite unconventional even in jazz or folk terms, transcending the usual sonic boundaries or stylings of those genres: he switches between “normal” acoustic and electric instruments with enviable facility.  On a couple of tracks, Gerard Mapstone and Robin Jones appear as guest guitarists (classical and electric respectively), and Philippe himself contributes a rather fine uncredited acoustic guitar part to Vauxhall Lasses.

There are so many great ideas here that every track’s a gem in its own right – and that idea-rich quality extends to the, often cheeky, track-naming.  The sparkling encore, a bonus live track, is a show-stopping set of reels that even takes in some boogie-woogie along the way.  Though textures are busy, the whole is admirably crisply recorded, perfectly reflecting what I might call the musicians’ exemplary instrumental diction in phrasing; and the recording has a superb presence too. Very satisfying indeed.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 74 of The Living Tradition magazine.