Leeds-based quartet Adult Jazz burst onto the scene with their debut album Gist Is, and whilst comparisons have been made to indie-pop experimentalists like Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear, theirs is a sound all of their own. The similarities they share with these and other like-minded artists is in their attempts to explore and push the confines of pop music whilst retaining at least some of the elements which may appeal to a broader spectrum of listeners.
The album opens with ‘Hum’, a bold opening statement that immediately introduces the vocal gymnastics of lead singer Harry Burgess who shifts from towering falsetto to Andy Partridge-esque croon with effortless grace. The vocals take centre stage on many of the tracks (ably accompanied by the virtuosic musicianship) but none more apparent than the opener where the vocals are given very little accompaniment for the first 3 minutes, bar a sustained organ chord and a pitched-down vocal dub that ghosts the lead melody. The song erupts into full swing with a pattering drum beat joined briefly by a bouncing horn line and scat vocals (another ingredient in Burgess’s bag of vocal tricks) before the track recedes into a similar place from whence it came with the ever-present organ drone gently idling by our side.
From here on in things get slightly more conventional (and I use that term very loosely) starting with ‘Am Gone’ which finds Burgess again toying with scat vocals, this time mirrored by crisp guitar underpinned by a similarly bouncy rhythm as heard in the second half of ‘Hum’. We then roll seamlessly into ‘Springful’ which almost plays out like a sequel to ‘Am Gone’ with its familiar vocal melody and infectious drum patterns. Somewhere around the 2-minute mark a reversed metallic sounding loop heralds an unexpected change that contains the song’s triumphant refrain “So let us joy up and be springful, your provision is more than a mouthful”, the vocals trading blows with punchy guitar chords in joyous bursts.
Whilst the skill with which Burgess delivers the vocals is hard to overlook, attention must also be given to the lyrical content with its evocative imagery and literary qualities. Opener ‘Hum’ provides a typically dramatic example of this; “A love that isn’ waiting on my shook soul. At the nave and at the navel, him I know. Been a little leaden lately, he can’ bite down on my soul. At least he eats the breadcrumbs that I throw!” This is only one of many great examples and it’s certainly worthwhile reading the complete album lyrics that are cryptically divided and ordered on the Adult Jazz tumblr.
‘Spook’ sees the band change gears somewhat, with its sparse arrangements evolving from the bubbling piano of the opening passage, to a muted guitar swagger once the full band joins in, gradually building to the propulsive tribal percussion of the song’s explosive finale. And despite the song clocking in just shy of 10 minutes it never overstays its welcome.Â Elsewhere ‘Idiot mantra’ shows some of the experimental flair of ‘Hum’ with very little in the way of pop hooks, something the band will hopefully pursue further on future releases.
Despite the extended running time of some of the tracks the music navigates various twists and turns always keeping your interest and doling out enough hooks to grasp onto along the way.Â Gist Is is an ambitious and compelling album that could only come from such an assured outfit.Â A band of this calibre is hard to ignore and will no doubt garner the attention and praise they deserve.