Album: Maher Shalal Hash Baz

Blues du Jour, Geographic
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The Independent Culture

Last year's Maher on Water mini-album was the sonic equivalent of a palate-cleansing sorbet, providing a refreshing alternative to just about any other music around at the time. With 41 tracks to negotiate, Blues du Jour offers a more substantial banquet from the quirky Japanese collective with the Hebrew name, led by the composer Tori Kudo, though not one significantly different in sound or manner. With an approach that blends whiskery horns with dignified rhythms, and an aesthetic favouring mood over virtuosity, the result combines the rustic charm of the Penguin Café Orchestra with the experimental leanings of The Residents, particularly the one-minute miniatures of the latter's Commercial Album. Most of these pieces are brief, haunting sketches - some little more than textural ideas or short melodic phrases - whose dominant cast is a sort of gauche pomposity. With the tragicomic sound of the euphonium to the fore, tracks such as "His Banner Over Me Was Love" and "White Dream" are like the quaint marches of a puppet brass band in some Sixties children's programme such as Trumpton. At their slickest, though, MSHB can summon echoes of Bacharach and Astrud Gilberto, as when indulging in the relaxed Latin-American swing of "Post Office". A mild, engaging album that is refreshingly free of the pushy careerism that stains most modern pop.