Interview: Get the Blessing

GettheblessingwebA shared love of Ornette Coleman was the initial glue binding the post rock jazzisms of Bristol’s Get the Blessing.

Formed from the rhythm section of the city’s darkly compelling trip hop act Portishead, the four piece – comprised of Jake McMurchie on saxophones, Pete Judge on trumpet, Jim Barr on bass and Clive Dreamer on drums – with the occasional addition of long-term collaborator Adrian Utley’s guitar – use electronica and effects to push their jazz sound into new realms.

Their latest LP, the ten-track Lope and Antilope, is their fourth and marks a foray into more improvisational sonic pastures for the group. The album was recorded in just four days in an empty pottery workshop in Pembrokeshire and shows the band at the heights of their powers – blending the menacing with the melancholic they’re gone out further than ever before… we find out how…

How did Get the Blessing first get together?

We’d all played in different bands with each other. Bristol is a small music scene and we were looking for an excuse to play as a group. Initially we just met up to play for the hell of playing. We would meet every Friday, play a few tunes, drink coffee, play some more and eat a nice Moroccan lunch. The line-up immediately reminded us of Ornette Coleman’s great bands of the 50s and 60s so we played lots of his tunes. It was all about playing music for pleasure.

Lope and Antilope is your latest record – how did you make the LP? Was the recording process different to your previous releases?

We wanted to recapture some of the spontaneity of our first endeavours. So, whereas the previous records had relied on the tunes being pre-composed and constructed collaboratively, this time we found ourselves a remote, neutral and beautiful space, set up a mobile recording studio and improvised. From these sessions we collected the most exciting and beautiful passages and edited them into the tunes as they finally arrived on the album. We cut lots out, added bits, but were careful to preserve the core of the improvisations. It was a very creative process.

The other major change was to put the electronics first. Rather than embellishments to established routines, the sounds and sonic images we created formed the basis for the improvisations. We’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with sound as we’ve toured and this was an opportunity to bring it to the forefront.

What does it signify in terms of songwriting for you as a group? Does it represent a leap forward for the band?

We had set ourselves a tight deadline for this album so it was a leap of faith to trust to improvisation to yield an album’s worth of material we would all feel proud of. We knew we could produce the raw material, but would it just sound like a noodly jam? It was very exciting to listen back and hear the way the band’s sound, melodic instinct, and sense of groove and interplay have evolved in five years of touring. It feels very significant to us as a representation of our growth as a unit.

Does being from Bristol have an influence on your sound?

Not directly, though Bristol is an excellent place to be free from scene-driven conceptions about how music should sound. Everyone knows someone who is doing something interesting and different, the scene isn’t ghettoised like those from bigger cities can be.

Who are your biggest influences/inspirations? 

We have to say Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, of course. The freedom, melody and sheer joy in his music has been very inspiring. But we take inspiration from all sorts. Not least a good cup of tea.

Do you consider your music as ‘jazz’? Or do you think differently to this? Does this fluid approach to genre make it difficult for people to get what you’re about?

It’s honestly not something we give much thought to (except in interviews!) Certainly not in the creative process. Of course, it has many jazz elements which we embrace wholeheartedly, but there’s so much else we embrace too, and we’re far, far more interested in whether it’s tuneful, interesting, emotionally engaging, exciting…

I suppose, in a media and therefore genre-dominated world, this may make it difficult for people to get what we’re about, especially in the UK (music seems less pigeon-holed in Europe), if they have been conditioned to expect something specific from “jazz”. It certainly makes it difficult for people who think they don’t like jazz to find us (we have had many people over the years who have said ‘I don’t like jazz, but I loved the gig’). But that’s not a problem we can solve, except by keeping going, moving forward and getting our music out there whenever we can.

Have you a favourite place to play/are audiences more receptive to your music in the UK or overseas? 

Every gig is a privilege and we always commit 100 percent to each one. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to play in so many places, so we can’t choose a favourite. Although the food in Italy has always been exceptional.

What are your thoughts on the current health of the jazz scene? Is it in a good state?

Musically, it seems exceptionally vibrant these days. There are many, many talented musicians of course, but the rise of so many great bands has led to a sea-change in the quality and originality of the jazz scene. And there seems to be a rise in the number of great bands that are coming from outside the London scene too. There are so many great musicians and fantastic new bands in the Bristol area.

Which artists/acts are you currently most excited about?

Eyot, a band we met in Serbia and who supported us at our album launch at the Jazz Cafe must be heard. We have to mention Jake’s new band Michelson Morley, of course! The return to form of David Bowie has been great too.

Have you got any tips for new and emerging artists?

Don’t be too normal and don’t take it too seriously.

Visit the Get the Blessing website to find out more.