The Herbaliser

Take London

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Take London is going to have listeners asking why two of England's foremost beatheads would want to attempt a live project. In fact, although Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba had been sample spotters and rap boosters without peer in England's beat community -- arguably matched only by Ninja Tune label heads Jonathan More and Matt Black of Coldcut -- their live shows as the Herbaliser exuded a bohemian character, more Portobello Road than the East End, replete with a horn section and much time for on-stage jamming. It must have been a natural choice to simply invite the live band into the studio when recording began for their fifth production LP, but the decision does make rating the record a challenge. Something Wicked This Way Comes, from 2002, expanded the Herbaliser's sound into free-form territory without sacrificing their knack for floating deadly hooks and recruiting excellent rappers, but on this record the raps are fewer and farther between. Fortunately, the musicians and arrangers do pick up the slack. The brass-band contributions to the first song ("Nah'mean Nah'm Sayin'") are noticeably lumbering, but the rest of the instrumental material offers production and sound neatly matching the sources Herbaliser and others plundered during the '90s and 2000s. "Gadget Funk" is a monster electro jam that only takes Bambaataa and Zapp as influences, then transforms them into a free-for-all where brass, synthesizers, and percussion all vie for supremacy on their respective solos. Likewise, although it's quite cheeky for the group to offer up "Geddim'!!" as an original (it's actually an uncredited cover of Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter's "I'm Late, I'm Late"), the guys add so many elements -- strings, scratching, even a Bogart sample -- that by the end, jazz fans will be ready to forgive all sins. It's true that the rappers are given short shrift here, but the single "Generals" features a slew of great rhymes, and the underexposed Jean Grae appears on no less than four tracks (Roots Manuva is the other high-profile feature included). Ninja Tune fans may not have wished to hear a crucial production unit like the Herbaliser going down the same road already traveled by the Cinematic Orchestra and Chris Bowden, but the talents of all involved (especially Wherry and Teeba) put this record over the top.

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