f Bowie had abandoned pop and rock after his Berlin years, and instead of making “Let's Dance” had knuckled down to saxophone practice and formed an arty jazz band, the Norwegian based Wibutee is what he might have sounded like by 2004.
Wibutee start the process of making an album with live jams, but cut, bent and reshape everything in the computer adding loops, glitches and buzzes to the final product. Considering how technical and stiff processes like this can end up, Wibutee have produced an extraordinarily restrained, yet exciting third album.
On it, the mood veers from quirky to sinister via instrumental pieces that frequently begin in chaos and eventually cohere into accessible grooves. Wibutee's genius is in the fact that the point at which disorder becomes order can never be pinned down. One minute you’re trying to find your footing in a random soundscape of disparate noises and the next, you’re immersed in a satisfyingly muscular groove. As such, solos are functional rather than showy, adding texture to pieces rather than musical direction.
It’s hard to say exactly who Wibutee sounds like. A little bit of Tortoise is certainly present (though far more interesting), as well as Magazine in the occasional subtle nods to John Barryish secret agent themes. Or maybe even a dash of Portishead, minus the vocalist.
And as you might expect by those reference points, Playtime is great late-night mood music. Tracks like “Glor” are fraught with foreboding, revealing their creepiness amid dubby ambience, scraping strings and a saxophone mutely screeching like a distant passing car. And a groove that slowly insinuates its self.
To return to the Bowie connection (David not Lester—I should make that clear as this is a jazz album we're talking about), Wibutee works well as the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell To Earth that Bowie never got to write . Tracks like “We Are In Space, So Are You” and “Country Practice” would have perfectly complemented the claustrophobic but romantic spirit of Nic Roeg's classic sci-fi film.
For this writer, who doesn't have much time for modern jazz, Playtime is the best modern jazz album of the year. And if that's faint praise then I should also say it's one of my favourite albums of any genre of the year so far.
Reviewed by: Howard Male
Reviewed on: 2004-09-08