Listeners wondering why Ninja Tune would release a jazz record need know only one fact to make sense of it: Chris Bowden has arranged and anchored tracks from 4hero and the Herbaliser, two of the brightest dance-production collectives to flirt with jazz playing. As experienced listeners may guess, Slightly Askew proves that Bowden has kept a few ideas in reserve for this occasion. It's the work of a free jazz big band (17 pieces, including four violins and a pair of cellists) and, as such, will mean much more to fans of jazz than electronica. The group opens up immediately on the lengthy opener, "Only Angst"; noisy but very structured, the 20-minute piece features most players working through what can only be described as section arrangements while flutes, trombone, and alto Bowden explode with brief, fiery solos. Though "Crockers and Killers" and "Zoo Zoo" begin as small-group numbers (with the fractured drum work embodied in West London's broken-beat scene, of which 4hero is a part), both gradually expand and continually find new territory to explore. Excepting only a few scattered seconds of keyboards, there's no sound synthesis at work here -- just the amazing free-form musings of a large group organized by one of Britain's brightest young musicians. Now, if only they think to stock it in the jazz section.
AllMusic Review by John Bush