Cadiz [Release date 17.06.13]
The mission statement for this album comes in the middle of the autobiographical ‘Me My Bass And I’: ‘When I heard Jaco (Pastorius) and Weather Report that was basically it. I realised where I came from, where I was aiming and I immediately grasped how to hit them with my rhythm stick’.
Norman Watt Roy’s point of departure is Pastorius’s bass opus ‘Donna Lee’ and for the most part he emulates his hero on a scrap book of an album that mixes inspired and incendiary playing with a collage of his musical past.
‘Faith & Grace’ (cockney rhyming slang for bass) is a jazz album dressed up as a solo album. It’s as much is a career summary of his time with The Blockheads, Wilko Johnson and his sessions for the likes of The Clash and Frankie Goes to Hollywood as it is a solo album.
‘Faith & Grace’ slips in and out of Blockhead style funk, virtuoso jazz fusion, bebop, pop, r&b and dance, to reflect his wide ranging career. But ultimately Norman never strays too far away his love of jazz, as evidenced by Billy Eckstine’s ‘My Foolish Heart’ which closes the album. The gently voiced bass notes, drifting piano and sonorous feel provide a moving ode to his late wife.
That Watt-Roy is one of the great rock bass players of our time is not in doubt. Not only does he have the chops but he has the track record to back it up. And this album is best understood as an attempt to cross over the music he really loves (jazz and funk) to a target audience schooled on Norman’s role as a conduit who glues together Dury’s funky word plays and Wilko’s stripped down rhythm & blues. And if it doesn’t quite make it, there’s still some scintillating music to enjoy as he pull’s together sharply contrasting musical styles.
The material is cleverly linked in intricate ways, from the studio reconstruction of the ‘Norman!Norman!’ chant which brings together some of his best known riffs, to the be bop, scat singing on ‘Moiche Tantrum’ and a sample of Ian Dury on ‘Papa Chu Pap’ that reflects Norman’s musical background. There’s also an underlying Zappa feel to the rapped out ‘Save it’, on which Sarah Gillespie cleverly enunciates the lyrical meaning.
The sequencing and dynamics of the songs and the flow of the material ensures a linear progression. The extravagant swinging horn section of the Dury’s ‘Billericay Dickie’, the beautifully crafted funk of the Weather Report influenced ‘John And Mary’ and the relaxed counterweight of ‘Wachu-Wa’ (Latino dinner jazz) all draw the listener in.
Best of all is the horn led groove of ‘Me, My Bass And I’, while he teams up again with Wilko Johnson on the reworked ‘Roxette’.
The high quality of musicianship – ranging from grainy sax work, boisterous drumming and Norman’s propulsive bass playing – and the ever present spirit of Ian Dury ensures that ‘Faith & Grace’ is a work of substance and good humour.
Ultimately this album all boils down to expectations. Some fans will embrace the opportunity to let Norman do his thing on his own terms, while others might be a bit puzzled his jazzy antecedents. Either way, just like his former boss Ian Dury, Norman Watt-Roy is a one-off and this album is a testimony to both his talent and his essential place in the last 46 years of rock history. ***** (4/5)
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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