24 April 2017
catholic as in tastes. Jess half apologised that Pheno was not jazz but we knew that (I was there; Geoff wasn't) but then she went on to say the first track was jazzish. It started with a steady drum beat in 4, then moved to a syncopated guitar line accompanied with Jess on a unison vocal (George Benson?), then a synth wash in the background, some harmonies, some African-like crossing rhythms, a heavy synth bass line and layered lines from Jess' looper. Looking very good. Rock steady, unforced, easy to hear and a lovely intro: welcoming, insinuating. That one was called Little toys. Next up was There are voices, a long tune, some dirty 4/4 drums and distorted rock guitar, some relieving refrains, developing percussion from a stick claps then overlaid vocals, floating spaces, into 3/4 bars with drum fills to bar ends. There are just three players, but they sound big, what with unrelenting drums and synth shimmers and electronic bass and varied guitar effects and loops and the three layers of vocals. All women, which is nice to see. It's too infrequent in jazz; more frequent outside. I expect Jess writes all the music - as I understand, Jess is Pheno. I think I feel a woman's awareness of life, here's a discrete one: "I am old, I'm from the beginning, you were once a gill-beater like me ... come down deep where the secrets are living, I want you to return to the sea". Next up was Slingshot, heavy, guitary, less structured like the last. Little thing was a personal song from Jess alone on stage with guitar and mic, dedicated to daughter and coming son. Dragon year was a good old-fashioned rock tune in 4 with dirty guitar and singing against kick drum and punkish twisted phrases and a touch of beach. Jess is well trained and well experienced and the professionalism shows a mile, and she's got a deliciously understated but capable offsiders, Alyx and Bonnie. Wonderfully inventive pop, she calls it Afro-Sci. This was the tour for a new EP, presumably the tracks of the new EP, to be performed the following day at Cobargo Folk Festival and elsewhere. I'm sure it would have gone down a treat - it certainly did at Smiths. Folk? Jazz? Afro-Sci? We are all catholics these days and this was a huge treat. I loved it.
Jess Green (guitar, vocals) is Pheno. Pheno performed at Smiths with Alyx Dennison (keys, vocals) and Bonnie Stewart (drums, vocals).