Jazz has largely fallen by the wayside for me over the last few years; my excursion into the experimental side of the genre wore me down to a point where I practically threw in the towel navigating the genre’s new bands, sticking to minimal, rock-driven, or big brass bands. Yet despite the slew of the latter existing out there, none had the allure and promise of Aberdeen demonstrated in their debut, and ever since the first teasing of the new record, I’ve been holding out for it.
Building expectations like that has served me poorly in the past, but Aberdeen‘s sophomore record Held Together lived up to all of them. Masterminded by Brian Plautz, Aberdeen is a community band, drawing in talent from all walks of music. What about their style? On the one hand, it is big band brass jazz with pop leanings, on the other, it dabbles in rock and draws forth comparisons to the exceptional talents of Coast and Arcing Wires at times. But to drill it down to a one-liner, they create epic jazz you can sing along to. If you need convincing, go listen to the album opener “It Was here” from Downpour and you’ll know exactly what I mean!
The variety between the seven original compositions of the album is staggering, with Aberdeen providing a little something for everyone. Whether it be reimagined folk songs from their travels around the world or the signature bombastic sound of their live staples, it’s a joyous album that feels more like a celebration of life and friendship than any other album I’ve heard in recent times. “Losing Eurydice” is a brilliant opener, contrasting the explosive opening of Downpour with a thoughtful song, packed full of great instrumental moments. The bass clarinet really shines, as do the metered horn sections, which slowly build up to a powerful, yet always gentle climax.
This sets you up perfectly for one of my favourite tracks on the album. Short, succinct, but oh-so brilliant, “Where Y’at” has been a staple of Aberdeen live shows for the last two years, and it is clear to anyone why. High energy, packed full of groove, this track feels like the love child of Snarky Puppy and Coast, and the ultimate climax almost catches you off guard by the time it comes around, as you’re having too much fun. A signature sing-along track, I can see this being chanted at parties and gigs in future.
“Rising Sun” & “Kyrgyz Jeri” are much more docile in comparison, but certainly do not lack in quality. Influenced by their travels, these reimagined songs draw on worldwide talent, with the list of contributors to each track as long as your arm. I certainly look forward to exploring these tracks in more depths, as there are instruments and vocals within “Rising Sun”, I haven’t fully appreciated yet.
My two other favourite tracks are again big blasters, with huge horns and big guitars really driving the sound. Adam Neeley‘s expert bass is present on all tracks of the record, and the quality he brings to the composition is clear. But the real stars of the show are the assortment of brass that Plautz has pulled together, and the synergy they have when delivering the big hooks of the songs. “Closing Medley”, placed in the middle of the record, is super tight and packed full of energy. Yet it’s the title track of Held Together that steals the show from start to finish and serves as the perfect closer.
It feels like a rousing speech given to all the members of the band and their fans to say thanks for joining them on this journey, with soft brass sections building up into powerful spurts of elation with the whole crew joining in. The solos are beautiful and packed full of joy, and the overall hook of the track, which slowly becomes more and more prominent throughout, is sublime.
The only thing I would wish for is more time to truly enjoy the record before penning this, so I could talk more about the influences and story of the creation of Held Together that have made this such a fantastic listen. Otherwise, my only message to Aberdeen is to get your ass over to Europe to delight us all with your craft. Held Together is a must-play for people who want to inject joy into their life.