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Review 

Spring Heel Jack's The Sound of Music

Wednesday, Sep 29 1999
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Spring Hill Jack
The Sound of Music
(Tugboat)

Everybody from the Misfits to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has taken a stab at Rodgers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," and who can blame them? Apart from being a classic, easily recognizable show tune, its melody is almost infinitely malleable. John Coltrane proved that most powerfully on his landmark 1960 version, pushing and pulling chords until he transformed a song of kiddie obsessions into one of his grandest statements of maturity.

On the four-song The Sound of Music EP (currently import-only; bend the ear of your local retailer), London drum 'n' bass duo Spring Heel Jack approaches the song with the same freewheeling sensibility, which marks another step in their evolution away from their jungle roots. The group was formed in the early '90s by John Coxon and Ashley Wales, who'd both sprung out of pop and rock roots, producing records for Spiritualized and, more famously, Everything But the Girl's "Walking Wounded." But a couple of years ago, the duo's straightforward, almost poppy approach (best displayed on 1996's 68 Million Shades) fractured into its polar opposite. 1997's Busy Curious Thirsty sprayed out dance beats, yes, but, taking its cue from soundtracks and dub, moved slowly, riffing on melodies instead of simply repeating them, and often exploding into grandiose blasts of processed horns, drums, and other sinister noises. Busy Curious Thirsty was more a contemplative jazz album than a set of club anthems, which is probably why the drum 'n' bass purists hated it intensely.

Spring Heel Jack's take on "My Favorite Things" won't help matters, which is just fine. Dark and echoing meditations take the song's basic melodies and sandblast them with violent washes of white noise and booming cathedral bells, as sampled piano notes tinkle vaguely in the background. "Climb Every Mountain" is if anything even more severe, layered with busy drum rattles that sound ripped clean from Max Roach, minor-key synths, and haunting choir samples. It ain't Coltrane, but the band is obviously looking in that direction for ideas -- one of the two relatively disappointing originals, "Death Futures," embellishes its bleak, ponderous rhythm with a series of hard-bop samples swimming underneath. Whether Spring Heel Jack can consistently articulate its newfound avant-garde vision outside of a borrowed melody isn't clear yet. But Coxon and Wales chose the perfect place to start trying, and, purists be damned, they've begun to make something of it. Jazzbos and junglists both can learn something from the results.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis

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