Badge Époque Ensemble
Maximilian “Twig” Turnbull, the Toronto-based creative with a flair for the eccentric, has a certain way of making madness seem comprehensible. Though different from his normal brand of neo-psychedelia (which is often recorded under the name Slim Twig), Turnbull’s Badge Époque Ensemble, a mostly instrumental musical collective, fits into his overall aesthetic. Their latest effort, the colourful Self Help, is a solid collection of self-described “jazz funk” with ample character and only occasional hops to esoterica. With dextrous instrumentation and understated jubilance, Turnbull leads a tight and measured ensemble through creative arrangements that are at the same time groovy and composed. Especially pleasing are Karen Ng (of Andy Shauf and Broken Social Scene fame) on saxophone and Alia O’Brien on flute, whose inclusions add wonderful flavour to an already diverse mix.
On “The Sound Where My Head Was”, Jay Anderson’s splashy percussion works wonderfully, so too does Turnbull’s downright funky Rhodes-Clavinet combo. On “Extinct Commune”, Turnbull’s stunning piano creates natural mysticism that, while completely different from the tonality of the record’s vibe, still works as a closer. Even though the rest of the album evokes rough shades of Jamiroquai, its final notes resemble David Foster.
However instrumentally stimulating, Self-Help suffers at least somewhat by having three different vocalists lead each of the record’s three non-instrumental songs. On their own, the voices of Meg Remy (“Sing A Silent Gospel”), James Baley (“Unity (It’s Up To You)”), and Jennifer Castle (“Just Space For Light”) are rich and fitting. But, appearing one after another on a record, they seem disjointed and busy to an already elaborate sound. Of course, one could conversely consider this vocal diversity appealing and worth including.
With the exception of “Birds Fly Through Ancient Ruins”, which wades in atmospheric reverberation for far too long and almost halts the record’s forward momentum, all of the album’s tracks have depth, energy, and enthusiasm. It flows sensibly and manages to stay interesting even during some of the more conventional moments.
As a collection of jazzy funk tunes, Self-Help is, at its core, an enjoyable listen with substantial replay value. It might sometimes stray into ruminative obscurity, but its self-contained mulling is far from fatal.