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The Serpent Hit

Artist: Mike Westbrook

Date of Release: 23/09/2013

Catalogue no: WR001

Label: Westbrook Records

Price: £10

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Track Listing

No

 

Title

Duration

1

 

Throw

8.39

2

 

Lob

6.30

3

 

Hurl

6.49

4

 

Pitch

8.22

5

 

Trigger

6.14

6

 

Strike

15.07

 

 

 

 

Appearances by

Chris Biscoe, Karen Street, Kate Westbrook

After the Serpent’s bite there is no turning back. Kate Westbrook’s libretto recounts, with irony, humour and regret, the Fall of Humankind in a world hell–bent on its own destruction.
Mike Westbrook’s genre–crossing score combines Kate’s voice with the saxophones of
Andy Tweed, Chris Biscoe, Karen Street and Chris Caldwell, and the drums of Simon Pearson.

 

Reviews

 

20/08/2013 Chris Parker

Although The Serpent Hit, described in its accompanying publicity as a ‘modern-day fable of the Fall of Humankind’, does indeed provide a tour d’horizon of contemporary ills – listed by librettist Kate Westbrook as the ‘wanton destruction’ of (in song order) innocent pleasure, art, the environment and planet Earth itself – it is by no means a gloomy, pessimistic work, infused as it is with the defiant jauntiness, even exuberance, that have characterised the many projects on which the Westbrooks have collaborated over the years, whether their subjects have been unequivocally grave (the reflections on a broken Europe in London Bridge) or apparently trivial (tips on trifle-making in English Soup).

Thus, the blinding of a merry-go-round horse by a stone (‘Threw’), the smashing of a pot by a glass (‘Lob’), the striking of a basking shark by a barb (‘Hurl’) or the annihilation of the planet by a bomb (‘Trigger’) are all addressed with the same seriousness as manifestations of human folly and destructiveness. Mike Westbrook’s music (originally commissioned for the Delta Saxophone Quartet, now adapted for performance by saxophonists Andy Tweed, Chris Biscoe, Karen Street, Chis Caldwell and drummer Simon Pearson) is carefully calibrated to accommodate Kate’s characteristically idiosyncratic but hard-hitting text, drawing on everything from the cabaret/music-hall tradition to punchy modern jazz in the process.

Beautifully illustrated by Kate’s cover painting and flawlessly and enthusiastically performed by a crack band, The Serpent Hit, despite its ostensibly grave subject matter, is – somewhat paradoxically – an inspiring and oddly uplifting listening experience. The Westbrooks have never been afraid to address the ‘big issues’ – their profound and deeply moving meditations on the Great War in the aforementioned London Bridge, for instance, should surely form part of any self-respecting forthcoming public commemorations of that earth-shattering conflict – and The Serpent Hit, infectiously lively and immediately accessible as it is, constitutes another considerable artistic triumph for them.

 

14/08/2013 Stephen Graham

Originally commissioned by the Delta Saxophone Quartet for voice and four saxophones The Serpent Hit features the text and voice of Kate Westbrook and music of Mike Westbrook joined by the quintet of alto saxophonist Chris Biscoe, baritone saxophonist Chris Caldwell, tenor saxophonist Karen Street, soprano/alto saxophonist Andy Tweed, and drummer Simon Pearson. Radio 3’sJazz on 3 programme broadcast the work two years ago in a concert marking Westbrook's 75th birthday recorded at Kings Place, however this is a studio version recorded earlier this year produced by Colosseum’s Jon Hiseman. Each of the first three tracks is an absorbing meditation on the wanton destruction, respectively, of innocent pleasure in the opener ‘Throw’; art in ‘Lob’; and the environment in ‘Hurl’, Kate Westbrook’s text quoting John Masefield in one telling section. Following an instrumental ‘Pitch’, the destruction of the planet is then meditated upon in ‘Trigger’, with the coda ‘Strike’ culminating in these final lines: ‘Man from the apple bites a bit,/And, once again,/The Serpent Hit.” The record operates on several levels: as a scathing but lucid social critique featuring some of Kate Westbrook’s most cogent lyrics, delivered as an actor might recite, in a spirit more in sorrow than anger at the sentiments that need expressing. Sitting in a radical literary and artistic tradition hugely flavoured by William Blake, Bertolt Brecht, and even the late John Arden, as far as Mike Westbrook’s musical settings are concerned the band at least in the opening tracks operate like a chorus to Kate Westbrook’s emboldened narrative voice and charts a riotous course until a transition occurs on ‘Lob’. Mingusian, humane and characterful, a wake-up call to a society long gone feral The Serpent Hit is a new significant milestone of Mike Westbrook’s career. The harmonic underlay Westbrook weaves lends itself to its own plangently beseeching narrative throughout heard best on the instrumental ‘Pitch’ but underpinning most of the drama on the album so effectively. The Westbrooks never seem to fit into any contemporary style of jazz which is to their eternal credit as artists, even if their method may cause some bafflement or false expectations among listeners cut adrift from a pre-Internet world whose radical artistic and literary movements seem remote or even quaint. The Serpent Hit makes that lost history relevant like never before.

 

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