Review: Drum 'n' a hot vibe

Intense Jazz Cafe, London

The effects of LTJ Bukem's sound have been profound for drum 'n' bass. His introduction of lush strings, jazz melodies and dreamy synthesiser at a time when the more hip-hop-led, reggae-influenced jungle was prominent, opened up the music to a wider audience and penetrated fertile, youthful imaginations from Asia to America.

If jungle made bold, brash statements about the world, then drum 'n' bass was a mellifluous narrative, describing the "urban experience" more elaborately than had previously been achieved.

Considering its success, it's perhaps surprising that relatively few attempts have been made to create drum 'n' bass in a live context. Significantly, and true to Bukem's astute business sense, the main focus of his third Logical Progression album is this live element. The album features a recording of Intense playing live on stage at Brixton Academy last year, and the same sound is to be re-created all over the UK for this accompanying Logical Progression tour.

Intense (aka Dan Duncan, Simon Vispi and Beau Thomas) signed to Bukem's Good Looking label in 1994, having already decided that they "wanted the music to be more natural", a result, no doubt, of their programming days with non-dance acts such as the Stone Roses, the Cure and the Pogues in the Eighties.

The "natural" musicians enlisted are products of good, old-fashioned nepotism, but could just as well have been artistically considered choices: Molly Duncan (that is his name) is Dan's dad (but just happens to have blown sax for the Average White Band); Tim Cansfield is a friend of the family (but has handily strummed with James Brown and Steve Winwood). Tony Cuerco is a bass player with Molly's band. Add to this a drummer and a pair of MCs, and suddenly there's a nine-piece live combo where there were once three technology enthusiasts.

As the nine take their places and Bukem's DJ set dies down, the trendy cognoscenti in the Jazz Cafe hug the stage to hear the opening strains of "Witness". A low keyboard hum begins to rise, then sways in volume and pitch as MC Conrad verbally ushers in the trademark rapid beats which writhe away under a thick blanket of nebulous synth-swirls.

The tension builds, until released by the warm exhalation of Mr Duncan Seniors' inspired saxophone, which does everything necessary to promote drum 'n' bass as soundtrack music. A few moments later, everything climbs once more in an express-train crescendo that runs to the end with impressive energy.

This is the sound of early-morning optimism meeting late-night wisdom and finding that they make a full day. On "Afterlife", there are guitar riffs that wouldn't be out of place on a Pink Floyd album, and help to create a mood of existential uncertainty as Conrad dramatically asks the metaphysical question: "Where are you going?"

For many, the MC is at best superfluous, at worst annoying. Bukem himself used to unplug the mike leads of irritants. But Conrad has managed to keep the art alive. His lyrics are relevant as well as street-wise. His delivery is respectfully constrained. He excites and embellishes.

On "Retro-Spek", he sings/raps "Looking back on a vibe futuristically", adequately summing up the relocation of old styles into a new context. As the myriad influences unfold they reveal that, no matter how up-to- the-minute the music, it is inexorably linked to the long line of genres that led up to its creation. Intense are moving forward more easily by recognising what's behind them. It's a situation where everyone benefits - especially the audience.

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