Only in existence for some 18 months or so octet Brass Mask’s founder reeds player Tom Challenger (Dice Factory) is, however, no stranger to London label Babel who have just released Spy Boy, the band’s debut. Reeds- and brass-heavy the album opens deceptively in a kind of Gil Evans space rather than New Orleans the prevailing 'style' of the album as soon becomes plain. Challenger says he looks to the Mardi Gras Indians and New Orleans street bands as inspiration but that’s not all that's here by any means. The band features alongside Challenger on sax and clarinet, rising stars the Cross brothers: Theon (who plays the tuba), and Nathaniel (trombone); plus George Crowley (sax/clarinet), Dan Nicholls (bass clarinet/saxophone), Rory Simmons of Eyes of a Blue Dog and Alex Bonney (both trumpet); and John Blease (drums/percussion). The dirge-like ‘I Thank You Jesus’ summons the rural African American music of the deep south the blues at its heart, yet there are unexpected influences from equally unguessable parts of the metropolitan avant garde present as well, Challenger explains on the label’s website: “A big influence on me and my writing for this recording was Henry Threadgill’s Just The Facts and Pass the Bucket. Its combination of form-based improv, harmonic counterpoint and intense ensemble playing has been a big marker for me with Spy Boy.” The album is available as digital downloads from
Tom Challenger above