James Hardway – Big Casino

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

James Hardway (David Harrow to his Ma – his middle name’s James and a friend of his said that he “always did things the hard way”) has an illustrious background working with some the kings of the underground. An early collaborator of Alec Empire, one-time member of Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart, and with an On-U Sound legacy that takes in Gary Clail, Psychic TV and Lee Scratch Perry, Hardway evidently knows a thing or two about musical fusion.

After numerous albums, including two with Amanda Ghost on vocals, and an EP with Andrew Weatherall, comes BIG CASINO, his sixth album as James Hardway. Taking in the influences of his previous work and absorbing the sounds of his travels, it is seamless amalgam of shuffling beats, tinkling piano and smoky Latin brass.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking – jazz. And your enjoyment of this record will depend entirely on which camp you’re in with regard to jazz. The haters will hate it and the lovers will love it.

Of course, it’s immaculately produced, with Roger Harmar’s snaking upright bass on TIME TO GO, the driving HEART BEAT and the tribal exoticism of RISE UP forming mesmerising velvety walls of sound, albeit walls some distance in the background. Elsewhere, however, tracks like DOYOUDO sail far too close to the treacherous coast of acid jazz for comfort.

There is one stand out track, though: SEE THROUGH ME combines Tiki Taane’s seductive vocals with a driving rhythm and unsettling chord structure that reminds me of Massive Attack.

So, it all kinda depends on where you stand on jazz. This is a well-crafted album, at times impressive in its musicianship, at times infuriating. If you’d rather chew your own ears off than listen to jazz, then you may as well take four stars off my rating below.

4 stars