Fraud - Vortex, 21 Nov - London Jazz Festival

Memorably described (by the Jazzwise editor, Jon Newey) as the jazz equivalent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Fraud’s not inconsiderable reputation seems to rest largely on the fact that they make a hell of a lot of noise. And, with frequently distorted electric guitar and two drummers – not mere percussionists, but each with a full trap kit – there’s little doubt that when they go, they really go. They prove as much on multiple occasions in this LJF performance, remaining quintet members on keyboards and tenor sax joining that trio for a ferocious, hell-raising blast of near-primal intensi
Fraud - Vortex, 21 Nov - London Jazz Festival
Glorious to behold though these sections are, however, the Vortex show proves that this is only half the reason why the quintet have become so hot (to the extent, indeed, that their album was reportedly nominated for a BBC jazz award before it had even come out). Key to Fraud’s appeal, and what marks them out from even kindred spirits like the equally hyped Acoustic Ladyland and Led Bib, is that they are also capable of dropping right down for prolonged passages of fractured, fragile beauty.
In lesser hands, the effect could be disconcertingly schizophrenic but the impeccable musicianship and strong group dynamic gives the whole thing a remarkable coherence. The changes in mood – at times gradual, at others hair-trigger fast – are executed with near-military precision, leader James Allsopp the benevolent dictator directing operations. As apparent freeform chaos snaps suddenly into a head section, one realises that the music stands are there for a reason. The contrast throws each aspect into stronger light; the tension between the two – drawing upon a considerable instrumental arsenal that also includes electronics and bass clarinet – makes them surely one of the most thrilling acts on currently operating on the UK jazz scene.

Marcus O’Dair

Fraud - The Vortex, Wednesday 21 Nov

Even today, with edgy and new fusion overcoming the jazz scene, Fraud are an unorthodox group: two drummers with full kits, keyboards, baritone guitar and their co-leader (with drummer Tim Giles) James Allsop on assorted saxes and bass clarinet.  Their music contains elements of metal, free jazz, electronica and punk, sometimes in genre-hopping sequences, sometimes in one grand melee.

Guitarist Stian Westerhus makes a subtle (if anything about this band is subtle) but defining contribution.  His background is in Scandinavian metal and the big industrial sounds he brings to the music are relatively alien to jazz, and should be welcome.  Though he rarely solos, his symbiosis with the band is unquestionable.  And yet I find in Fraud’s music a conflict between the traditional objectives of jazz – the expression of personal and interpersonal emotion – and the objectives of electronic and industrial music – the creation of a depersonalised and often bleak soundscape. 

I find the jazz elements mix better with the punk, both musics generally coming from the heart.  Fraud’s use of industrial sounds can feel quite alienating; the soloist, usually Allsop, doesn’t communicate directly in this context, but aims to create, so it seems, a more abstract vision.

So one the one side, the band play with sounds and noise, cannibalising everything from Sun Ra to Fugazi, and are extremely adept at doing so, but they also, to me, lose track of what the music represents.  I listen, and I don’t hear joy, rage, love or fear, but just the excitement of the collision of sounds that make it up.  It’s strangely dehumanised, and it’s stranger still to watch it played in person.

Fraud are worth checking out, because there is a lot in their music to like.  I’m just sorry that it didn’t quite come together for me.

David Walter Hall