Indie troubadour's take on blues jazz

Puma Blue is the stage name of Jacob Allen, a London indie/jazz/blues musician.
Puma Blue is the stage name of Jacob Allen, a London indie/jazz/blues musician.PHOTO: BLUE FLOWERS MUSIC

INDIE/BLUES/ JAZZ

BLOOD LOSS

Puma Blue

Blue Flowers Music

4 stars

If you happen to be in the British capital someday, remember to check out a pub in Chiswick, west London - the base for Blue Flowers Music, an independent music label and live music night series started by Chris Pearson.

As a venue, it has witnessed the early performances of artists like Adele, Florence and the Machine, Sam Smith, Laura Marling, Lianne La Havas, Nick Mulvey and Michael Kiwanuka.

As a label, it is feted for an exciting roster of relatively unknown 20-somethings who flit between genres and never compromise on quality.

There is Westerman, a newcomer who has made people sit up with a series of gorgeous art-pop EPs, and now, meet Puma Blue, aka Jacob Allen, a fellow enigmatic balladeer who has made jazz his springboard for experimentation.

Puma Blue is the stage name of Jacob Allen, a London indie/jazz/blues musician.

The 23-year-old follows his 2017 debut EP, Swum Baby, with Blood Loss, another slo-mo, smoke-drenched set of songs. It is an indie troubadour's take on a blues jazz crooner by way of the club scene.

His vocal reference is the late American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley and you hear his influence in Allen's leonine yet androgynous purr, which can laze around, play footsie and suddenly grab you by the jugular.

Musically, it is nominally jazz, insofar as there is plenty of negative space for the listeners to savour the intricate interplay among drums, sax and assorted horns.

The track Bruise Cruise begins with flecks of harp, then unwinds into a peppering of lo-fi synths and funky, jazzy instrumentation.

Allen coos, "I'm just trying to make you see", before switching from falsetto to a grungy rasp, launching into an unexpected, desperate yawp in an otherwise restrained delivery: "You make me wanna stay, so grey, baby."

The beta-male introspection and murky atmospherics are at once on-trend and timeless, recalling mid-1990s neo-soul iconoclasts Maxwell and Lewis Taylor as well as latter-day mopey types such as Sampha, Rhye and Cigarettes After Sex.

"I don't wish I was your brother/ I'm so tired of being just friends," Allen complains in Lust, a piece of late-night, come-hither dunked in unrequited longing.

"Cause honey I'm so confused/ Could I fall away to blue/Shook by the spell of you," he moans over languorous riffs and percussion.

He captures that purgatorial sweet spot between dream and fulfilment, slinking through the urban malaise like a jilted Lothario.

How audacious of him, for instance, to begin the EP with spokenword piece as-is, which comes and goes within one minute 40 seconds.

As if destroyed by a flooding, the music crackles and frays.

"Would have followed the dark waters through to hell/As we swam through body horror or blistered shipwreck/Was some kind of home," he intones.

The wind blows over warped detritus and the listeners cling on to sanity and one another.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2018, with the headline 'Indie troubadour's take on blues jazz'. Print Edition | Subscribe