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Bill Wells & Maher Shalal Hash Baz - Osaka Bridge

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Artist: Bill Wells & Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Album: Osaka Bridge

Label: Karaoke Kalk

Review date: Aug. 6, 2006

Though primarily thought of as a jazz composer and pianist, Scottish artist Bill Wells has many feathers in his cap. He has recorded joyous blowouts with the Bill Wells Octet, moody dream-tones in the Bill Wells Trio, Billie Holliday songs with Isobel Campbell, and an album of sampler-led madness with Jad Fair, along with performing as sideman on recordings by Telstar Ponies, The Pastels, National Park and countless others. And though his melodies and arrangements are unassuming and gentle, his compositions are made of incredibly sturdy stuff.

Osaka Bridge was recorded while Wells was on tour in Japan. He found in Maher Shalal Hash Baz a group suited to his unadorned and wayward approach to arrangement; furthermore, Maher’s head conceptualist Tori Kudo shares Wells’ iconoclastic pop temperament and love of the humanizing effect of mistakes. Writ most powerful through these 15 performances, which sometimes sound like drunken brass bands wheeling through city streets or a school orchestra practicing in a dusty old barn, is the deceptive simplicity of Wells’ music. Maher are no conservatorium stylists and the raggedness of their playing suits the swaying, loping gait of Wells’ songs.

But it’s easy to listen to Osaka Bridge and compartmentalize the performances within the usual ‘kings of error’ discourse surrounding Maher Shalal Hash Baz. A song as frail as “Time Takes Me So Back” would be crushed by a voice more authoritative than that of Reiko Kudo. Likewise, her slightly disengaged humming through the two versions of “On the Beach Boys Bus” is reflective of the nostalgic tone of Osaka Bridge, offering a vision of pop music’s past. That several of these songs came to Wells in his dreams makes perfect sense, as they share both the imagination-run-riot ambition of the dream world and the inevitable melancholy of being rudely re-inserted back in the desert of the real. There may be music of more ‘import’ within critical circles, but Osaka Bridge is the most welcoming and joyous music I’ve heard this year.

By Jon Dale

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