WorldService Project's propulsive politics mix punk and Python for satirical japes at Jazz In The Round

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"Five disillusioned anti-Brexit punk soldiers...", is how Dave Morecroft, commander-in-chief of WorldService Project, portrays his troupe. Launching their fourth album, Serve, at a special edition of Jazz In The Round at the Cockpit Theatre, it's clear a lot has happened since their previous album For King and Country. At the Kings Place launch in 2016, just prior to the Brexit referendum, Dave Morecroft warmly encouraged us to vote. At the Cockpit in 2018, he and his musical soldiers sortied onto the stage, surrounded on all sides, still in their imperial military uniforms, this time bandaged and bruised with stage make-up, dripping with sticky blood.

While the letters pages of Jazzwise argue about whether politics belongs in jazz, the quintet has elected to "sharpen the sabre of our political wit," serving up a darker, more directly engaged vision of their characteristic mixture of prog-rock rhythms and jazz-fusion themes. It isn't really the 'punk jazz' they're calling it, except in the renewed intensity of its political disgust; musically, it's still their recognisable mixture of Cardiacs and Flat Earth Society, with knotty riffs and sequences of daringly-related chords dotted with 'Diablo en Musica'.

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Anger and frustration at the problems in our society and politics are central to their message, but the group's Python-esque sense of humour remains a key weapon in their arsenal. At gigs, Morecroft dons a terrifying mask with wild eyes and a shock of red hair, becoming Mr Giggles, the group's dark clown and manifestation of pure id, whose self-defeating narcissism makes him the Pound-shop-crowned man of the moment. 'The Tale of Mr Giggles' is a pedagogical fable in rhyming quatrains that might stray too far into preachiness, but 'Now This Means War' is a dark, committed musical-cum-spoken word piece in English, French, Italian and German that leaves no doubt about the height of the stakes at this time in our history.

Harry Pope's galvanising drumming and Arthur O'Hara's thick electric-bass drive the multiphonic sound of WorldService Project, but when combined with saxophonist Phil Meadows they form the "equal parts trio" Skint, who opened this evening's gig. Exploring the productive contemporary interspace between jazz, grime, Afro-beat and EDM genres, hits from a Roland SPD-X sampler pad give an out-of-a-box electro dressing with an inadvertently comic edge from some overfamiliar presets. But the group's playing is hard and heavy, and Meadows' soloing is serious jazz from the Rollins template. When they bust into a bashment rhythm and a single-note alto riff you can imagine Shabaka ringing the horn at the Steam Down club in Deptford, which is where the kids were dancing on the same night.

There is a zeitgeist connecting both bands here: WorldService Project speak to its politics, while Skint to its music.

– AJ Dehany

James Turner