The Haggis Horns (from the album Stand Up for Love available on Haggis Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
I first stumbled upon UK-based seven-piece The Haggis Horns when I picked up a copy of their 2010 release, Keep On Movin', on spec. The joyous, sharp modern funk of that record completely won me over. Needless to say, when the opportunity to review their new album, Stand Up for Love, came along, I was delighted to take it. The good news is that the nine new cuts here do not in any way disappoint.
The musicianship on Stand Up for Love is top notch. Erroll Rollins, drums; Kenny Higgins, bass; Ben Barker, guitar; George Cooper, Keys; Malcolm Strachan, Bass; Rob Mitchell and Atholl Ransome, sax is augmented here by John McCallum, vocals and Sam Bell, percussion. Between them, the band have worked with such varied luminaries as Jamiroquai, Martha Reeves, Amy Winehouse, Duran Duran and Robbie Williams. Together, they play some fine Funk Jazz on this set, with one foot firmly planted in the 1970’s and the steaming brews served up by Funkadelic, Sly Stone et al. The other foot, to stretch the saying to breaking point, lands in the block occupied by acid-jazz artists such as The Brand New Heavies and Corduroy.
Expect invigorating wah-wah guitar, infectious Stevie Wonder keyboard-riffs and vamps, down and dirty brass and jazz-inflected interludes. Funky, dub bass, echo effects and shades of dancehall reggae broaden the palette. The tracks breeze by in a miasma of hazy sunshine, which is not to suggest that this is throw-away music. The Haggis Horns offer plenty in terms of depth and nuance. The instrumental passages are a delight, switching playfully from full-on funk to tingling soundscapes, changing gears smoothly, with lovely touches of spacey, swirling keys and many an unexpected detour full of fire, grace and fun.
The strength of Stand Up for Love lies in its compositions and arrangements. Playing well is one thing, but musicians of this caliber need good material to get their teeth into. “Haggis Express”, coming half-way through the album, showcases the group’s ability to let loose on a tightly-structured instrumental, which never outstays its welcome and never feels contrived. The vocal tracks, such as “Nothing but Love in the End” are equally impressive. McCallum's voice is cultured and strong, with just the right amount of grit and soul. The manner in which the brass section lift, support and punctuate transforms what would have been good into something truly compelling.
Stand Up for Love, although unabashedly demonstrating the band's aforementioned influences, isn't afraid to add Jazz solos, Hendrix break-downs, old-school R&B, and whatever else might serve to spice up the mix. Production is lovely, lively, and inventive. The instruments are nicely balanced, with each player given room to breathe. The result feels classy, and not over-polished. Little breaks, rolls and solos are perfectly high-lighted, without ever detracting from the group effort. It is clear that a huge amount of love and work has been applied by all involved.
Labelling yourself as a particular genre brings mixed blessings. On the one hand, your target audience is known and appreciative. On the other, you may be limiting yourself to a certain demographic. Then there's the challenge, of course, of keeping your sound fresh, of moving forward without letting go of your anchors. It's a rare musician who can do that, think Bowie, Miles Davis etc. With Stand Up for Love, The Haggis Horns, although not charting any new territory (for them), deliver up a memorable and impressive set with strong songs married to impeccable playing. It would be churlish to ask for more. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of The Haggis Horns from AMAZON
For more information, please visit The Haggis Horns website