Acoustic Ladyland

Living with a Tiger: An intense and progressive mastery

In 2006, Acoustic Ladyland released Skinny Grin to great critical acclaim. Living with a Tiger is the long-awaited follow-up, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Prevalent through the album and evident from the opening bars of first track, Sport Mode, is a sense of tightly controlled ferocity. Sport Mode offsets enthusiastic blowing and frantic pace with a pared-down simplicity, making for an exuberant introduction to this exhilarating band.

Acoustic Ladyland has been through an internal revolution since 2006’s Skinny Grin, with a change in band personnel and the total elimination of vocals. On baritone saxophone, Pete Wareham is still the powerful driving force of the band, with Seb Rochford remaining on drums. Original band members Tom Herbert and Tom Cawley are now pursuing other projects, but replacements Ruth Goller and Chris Sharkey have more than risen to the bar – delivering a fresh impetus and consolidating Acoustic Ladyland’s progressive character.

In 2005 Acoustic Ladyland took the BBC Jazz award for best band. However, for Ladyland newcomers, this fact can be slightly misleading. The singular most startling fact about this band, is the seeming ability to subsume all genres and create an auditory experience incorporating the finest elements of jazz, rock, punk, hardcore, grime and hiphop. For example, Sport Mode blends the free-wheeling attitude of jazz with a guitar solo from the colossally talented Sharkey along with cheerful indie-rock melodies reminiscent of Deerhoof. Next up is Glasto, an involving piece anchored with authoritative drums, followed by a musical to-ing and fro-ing between Wareham’s saxophone and Sharkey’s guitar. Testing each other’s limits in this uproarious demonstration of flair, it’s no wonder that Glasto is currently a favourite for Wareham to perform live. “Performing the music is really good fun. It’s nice to try and stretch things, and create a new adventure every time you play.”

The absence of vocals and keyboard has detracted nothing from the sound of the band. Wareham has always stated that he wanted his instrument of choice, the saxophone, to mimic the human voice. This is achieved in spades. Compared to Skinny Grin, Living with a Tiger has taken possession of an advanced feeling of spaciousness, with soaring soundscapes creating mood and atmosphere, delivering songs with a power that make words arbitrary.

Track number six, Death by Platitude is one such example. Wareham reveals the inspiration behind the track as “frustration born out of recording with the previous record company we were with,” frenetic and moody, a spazzy, jarring tempo paints a perfect picture of aggravation. Having since set up his own label, Strong & Wrong, Wareham is much happier with total control – encompassing everything right down to the album art. The birth of Wakeham’s son, Quincy, is the muse behind The Mighty Q. The grand epicentre of the album, this intensely ambient four and a half minutes are a multi-layered journey along the beguiling path Acoustic Ladyland are travelling.

The naming of title-track, Living with a Tiger, is derived from the classic book by Akong Tulku Rinpoche,Taming the Tiger. This text preaches the timeless wisdom of mastering of the mind, subsequently allowing your full inner potential to be released. Wareham and the new-look Acoustic Ladyland now seem to have achieved the ideal balance necessary to achieve this nirvana-like state. With an almost bewildering array of influences and talent, the sound, enthusiasm and overall ethos of this band is immensely infectious.

Samantha Cracknell