If Platform One (Jazzprint, 2007) found Belgium's The Wrong Object on a roll following The Unbelievable Truth (MoonJune, 2007), then Stories from the Shed positions them as one of today's busiest groups. Three records in one year is impressive enough, but Stories is notable because, while the others were collaborations with British jazzers Annie Whitehead (trombone), Harry Beckett (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Elton Dean (saxophone), Stories is TWO sans guests, proving that it can stand just fine on its own.
First coming together as a Frank Zappa tribute band, TWO has long since evolved beyond clever interpretation. While many Zappa benchmarks can be found—guitarist Michel Delville's reckless abandon, and sources ranging from hardcore rock to jazz and contemporary classical music—The Wrong Object has rapidly created its own voice. Zappa still looms, but in intrepid spirit rather than direct musical reference. Delville plays the largest compositional role in this set of all-original music, but equally strong contributions come from saxophonist Fred Delplancq, trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart and bassist Damien Polard.
Unlike Platform and Unbelievable, Stories is a studio recording—albeit one with no overdubs and the same high energy level. The music ranges from the assault of the jagged, riff-driven Middle Eastern-tinged fanfare “Sonic Riot at the Holy Palate” to the gradually unfolding “Malign Siesta,” which begins gently, but shifts gears into an episodic piece featuring all that's best about TWO in a scant five minutes. Knotty themes, unrelenting grooves (courtesy of Polard and drummer Laurent Delchambre) despite often shifting meters, and concise solos manage to say plenty in the short time they’re afforded, especially Delville's high octane solo at the song's end.
Delville may be the most prolific and idiosyncratic composer of the group, but everyone has something to offer. Delplancq's high-charged “15/05” revolves around an 11/8 groove bolstered by Delville's harshly overdriven guitar, but is largely a vehicle for extended solos by the saxophonist and Estiévenart. Polard's “Sheepwrecked” is equally based on a simple construct—an ascending scale that gradually reveals itself amidst electronic textures and Estiévenart's best solo of the set. The trumpeter's “Saturn” is even more sketch-like, with occasional moments of complete free play surrounded by pulse-driven passages. Three brief and largely pensive collective improvs are scattered throughout the set, demonstrating a simpatico that can only come from years spent playing together.
TWO reprises Delville's title track from The Unbelievable Truth to close the disc. It's a two-part, ten-minute trip through open-ended spontaneity, quirky unison passages, aggressive fusion powered by Polard's heavily effected bass and strong solos by Estiévenart and Delplancq, before Delville takes it out with an extended and unfettered solo that, while speaking with its own screaming voice, would have made Zappa proud.
The same can be said for all of Stories from the Shed. There are few, if any, direct references to Zappa but, in its avoidance of stylistic pigeonholing and sheer irreverence, The Wrong Object has clearly grabbed the torch and is moving it forward in its own, increasingly unique way.