Web Web ‘Oracle’ LP/CD/DIG (Compost) 5/5

Providing very little information prior to its release, Web Web’s ‘Oracle’ is a live 14-track album on Germany’s influential Compost Records, who are now unbelievably in their 23rd year of operation. The album was recorded in one day with only first takes being used. The line-up has been heralded as being a super group featuring a quartet of very experienced and prominent musicians from Europe. These include Roberto Di Gioia (piano, synth and percussion), Tony Lakatos (tenor and soprano saxophone), Christian von Kaphengst (upright bass) and Peter Gall (drums). Sonically, the album embraces the various late 1960s and ‘70s jazz aesthetics of modal, fusion and spiritual jazz soundscapes, but ‘Oracle’ isn’t a Strata East or Black Jazz tribute record. This is very much a contemporary affair with its richness emanating from the group’s varied musical tastes and sensibilities and it favours an entire listening experience.

The title track ‘The Oracle’ which is the longest piece of the set at over 7 minutes, contains an unyielding bassline underneath the evolving piano and saxophone parts, with light percussive elements before the more frantic drum section around the midpoint. ‘Journey To No End’ uses the almost essential 6/8 time signature that is so often associated with spiritual jazz, and provides saxophonist Tony Lakatos with space to create the musical backbone of the piece. ‘Kings of Forbidden Lands’ is very melodic and possibly the most accessible piece on the album with its strong tenor and soprano sax parts and absorbing piano section towards the end. Personal favourite ‘The Ring Of’, which is presented as a five-part suite with all parts being under 3 minutes in length, focuses on its more pronounced drum and synth elements. This is maybe the most loose, interesting and modern aspect of the album and something that I would like to see more of from the group (apparently their 2nd album has already been recorded).

‘Unreal Prediction’ progresses from its subtle Fender Rhodes chords in the intro, to meandering soprano sax and almost free ensemble playing during the final third. ‘New World Trinity’ has an obvious African influence with its stark but pulse-like percussion, with again, some effectual electric piano additions. The relatively sparse and downtempo ‘Alternate Truth’ drifts along harmoniously over its duration, but the arrangement is never predictable or lacking interest. Thus, the album is engaging and fascinating in equal measures.

Being overly negative, I would have preferred the album to be a touch more spiritual in nature than maybe has been presented in the (limited) marketing of the LP, but it does state that it is a ‘spiritual-jazz type’ release. And there has been a lot of focus on the fact that the album was recorded in one day using one takes in a ‘jam session’ like fashion, but isn’t that how most jazz albums pre-1970 were created? And trying to offer similarities with other artists is somewhat difficult, but Japan’s Sleep Walker are possibly a decent alignment – but they had a more straightforward and dense approach to their arrangements and recordings. And singular albums within the very fast moving cultural landscape of music can get lost or ignored if there are no other contemporaries, but with flourishing (jazz?) scenes in LA and in London via Moses Boyd, Shabaka Hutchings, Henry Wu and the like (but it’s a shame Yussef Kamaal have now split up), the album could be embraced by those outside of the established and traditional jazz communities.

The musicianship is exceptional throughout and with only a brief search online you will see their respective histories and accomplishments. And after nearly a quarter of a century and ‘Oracle’ being Compost’s first live jazz album, the label must have identified something special within this project.

Damian Wilkes