Bromley Blues MUSIC

By Cook, Richard | New Statesman (1996), January 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Bromley Blues MUSIC


Cook, Richard, New Statesman (1996)


RICHARD COOK on how Billy Jenkins has created his very own modern sound

We can't boast many inventors, let alone innovators, in music, but we can lay claim to the creator of an entire area of modem sound: kitchen-sink jazz. Its progenitor is Billy Jenkins, who has lived and worked in Bromley in Kent for the past two decades and makes music about the place. There is no urban pastorale in Jenkins's music: it's Bromley as a home of the blues, a reality that is not about yearning for your baby while tooling down some interstate highway, but about refereeing a dispute between children fighting over Barbie dolls. As a guitarist, Jenkins spent years on the pub-rock circuit, but he found his metier as a focal point of much of the jazz that grew out of the eighties wave of new British players. Never quite restricted to rock, jazz or blues, his synthesis is homely and homespun, but as tough and needling as anything that a more obvious jazz environment can produce.

He has always signed on the best players, which is why his albums feature those such as Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart, Django Bates and Ashley Slater. They are all faintly comic, but hitched to the most mordant strain of British humour, and sparked by a lively, even furious intensity. There's no sloppiness in Jenkins's music. It's difficult to play and needs the best performers. His own guitar-playing has progressed from a sort of scratchy, left-field plangency to a full-blown mastery of all the recognised styles. He has done albums of lounge-suit jazz -- where the guitar and vibes tinkle like ice in glasses -- and big-band dates, which are a counter to Gil Evans's impressionism: as finely wrought, but coming to a completely different conclusion about how an orchestra should sound. One of his most popular projects has been the "Big Fight" series: two improvisers play at each other in five-minute rounds, with a referee ringing the bell and intervening when necessary.

Previous projects have rejoiced in song titles such as "Discoboats at Two o'Clock", "Sade's Lips" and "Greenwich One-Way System", but his latest album, Suburbia (Babel), is surely his masterpiece to date. …

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