CD Review: Kate and Mike Westbrook - The Serpent Hit

Kate and Mike Westbrook - The Serpent Hit
(Westbrook Records WR001. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Although The Serpent Hit, described in its accompanying publicity as a ‘modern-day fable of the Fall of Humankind’, does indeed provide a tour d’horizon of contemporary ills – listed by librettist Kate Westbrook as the ‘wanton destruction’ of (in song order) innocent pleasure, art, the environment and planet Earth itself – it is by no means a gloomy, pessimistic work, infused as it is with the defiant jauntiness, even exuberance, that have characterised the many projects on which the Westbrooks have collaborated over the years, whether their subjects have been unequivocally grave (the reflections on a broken Europe in London Bridge) or apparently trivial (tips on trifle-making in English Soup).

Thus, the blinding of a merry-go-round horse by a stone (‘Threw’), the smashing of a pot by a glass (‘Lob’), the striking of a basking shark by a barb (‘Hurl’) or the annihilation of the planet by a bomb (‘Trigger’) are all addressed with the same seriousness as manifestations of human folly and destructiveness. Mike Westbrook’s music (originally commissioned for the Delta Saxophone Quartet, now adapted for performance by saxophonists Andy Tweed, Chris Biscoe, Karen Street, Chis Caldwell and drummer Simon Pearson) is carefully calibrated to accommodate Kate’s characteristically idiosyncratic but hard-hitting text, drawing on everything from the cabaret/music-hall tradition to punchy modern jazz in the process.

Beautifully illustrated by Kate’s cover painting and flawlessly and enthusiastically performed by a crack band, The Serpent Hit, despite its ostensibly grave subject matter, is – somewhat paradoxically – an inspiring and oddly uplifting listening experience. The Westbrooks have never been afraid to address the ‘big issues’ – their profound and deeply moving meditations on the Great War in the aforementioned London Bridge, for instance, should surely form part of any self-respecting forthcoming public commemorations of that earth-shattering conflict – and The Serpent Hit, infectiously lively and immediately accessible as it is, constitutes another considerable artistic triumph for them. The Serpent Hit is to be performed at Wilton’s Music Hall, London, on 1 October.

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