Friday, 9 November 2007

Top 100 Albums - #60: Jaffa Minute? EP (2005)

Warwick impressarios Jaffa Rose make their only appearance on the chart with their first EP, Jaffa Minute?The story of Jaffa's formation is a rich tapesty of mutual friends and conflicting musical tastes. Nick Dugdale (saxophone) and 'Tall' Steve Henry (keyboards) met in Rootes, Warwick University, being introduced through mutual friends. In their search for a bassist, they came across a double bassist without a bow who couldnt read sheet music - a man by the name of Rowan Gifford. After barging in on him jamming, the duo recruited him and, through more tenuous connections, their dynamic drummer 'Little' Steve Kiddle. In his own words, "the lack of other drummers and my obvious enthusiasm got me the job."¹ After a brief and unsucessful audition for a jazz guitarist - "who clearly considered herself way too good for us"² - the group settled on Laurie Ainley, partly for his blues and soul creditials, partly for his inherent hatred of jazz. Anna Frodsham completed the line-up in vocals and the band - which took its name from a portmanteau of Jaffa Cakes and Salvador Dalì's Rose - began rehearsing in a dusty basement in Leamington.

Jaffa Minute? EP kicks off with 'Porcupine'. This is the only track on the 'album' not penned by Dugdale - "'Porcupine' was a cover of ones [sic] of Nick's friends A level music rap. We took the riff and the chorus and did our own thing with it."³ That does not automatically make it a bad thing, such is the nature of jazz. Certainly, there is a lot of good going on here - Kiddle and Henry provide some great rhymic hooks on drums and piano, Frodsham's voice is sultry and Dugdale's sax solo is pretty impressive. However, this track is just way too long. Being essentially a jam piece, it feels quite strung out on record, and for all the intelligent musicianship this is one of those tracks which falls flat on record but comes into its own on the stage.

'Night At The Fairground' is where things start getting good. Gifford's five-note opening bass riff is charming, and it provides the perfect lead-in to Frodsham, who really comes into her own here. Her voice is made for these kind of vocals - there is no straining at the vocal chords for effect or anything. The rest of the band capture the mood of this piece brilliantly, with Ainley and Henry soloing beautifully. Dugdale's repeating phrases hold the piece together which Kiddle slots fill in where other drummers would fail to find room.

'FNUK' (however it is pronounced) is devoid of Frodsham's soulful tones, being an instrumental. But this is not really a problem. Henry is allowed more room on this piece, anchoring it as Kiddle plays a jazzy waltz. While Gifford strums away in the background, the sax and guitar meld together to create a very listenable melody. But, as with all Jaffa music, just as soon as you're comfortable, a massive change happens. It goes from 3/4-jazz to 4/4-funk, and back again. Ainley especially is on form here; unlike most student guitarists, he doesn't see the effects box as an excuse to have fun and in the process to look self-indulgent. Instead he gives Dugdale the room he needs in the mix before blasting through with a sweet, transatlantic sound. Sweet.

'Collecting Dust' is the most studio- and radio-friendly track on the album, relying as it does on Henry's washes of electronica. This is what Snow Patrol would sound like if they had a female singer - and could write songs. And play instruments. Taking a leaf out of Paul Buchanan's book, Frodsham's vocal delivery is yearning, crying out across what to most seems a rather sterile background. Kiddle's drums inject some rhythm just where it's needed, and Dugdale's sax enters the fray to complete the picture. The only snag with such a treble-heavy song is that Gifford is lost in the mix, but listen hard enough and you'll find him, doing what he does best. Add Ainley's crying guitar song in the last 45 seconds and you have a classic.

The closer, 'Waffles', is another instrumental and is probably the funnest song on the record. After such a mournful number, it's just what is needed. Henry's keyboards are pushed backward as Ainley takes over the role of anchorman. Dugdale takes the melody and produces something that will make you involuntarily sway. That's the power of jazz. Kiddle's execution is superb, rhythmically precise and yet so playful to listen to. It's a great way to close the EP.

Jaffa Minute? EP is a great showcase for the band's spectrum. From the melancholy 'Collecting Dust' to the erudite 'Night At The Fairground' and the teasing 'Waffles', it's a splendid document of musicianship. While their second release, Second In Demand EP (2006), was richer in its production and hung together better, the kind of variety wasn't there like it was on here. The main flaw with Jaffa Minute? EP is that a lot of the live energy of Jaffa Rose is lost in the studio, where the parts are recorded individually and then mixed together. Both incarnations of Jaffa Rose - the original and the current one, with Grace Bird taking over from the graduated Frodsham - have their lifeblood in the live act; it is here that their fanbase is, it is how where the most experimentation can take place, and it's here where the best musical experience can be had. Recording a live album is notoriously hard for student bands to accomplish successfully, but considering the credentials that Jaffa Rose display on here, it might not be a bad idea.

3.80 out of 5
¹ Steven Kiddle in 'Jaffa Rose - review on my blog', Accessed on November 9 2007.
² Rowan Gifford in ibid.
³ Steven Kiddle in ibid.

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