The Covid pandemic lockdown spawned so many unusual recordings it became its own category. Some offerings were reflections of the moment: the sensation of confinement, isolation and a can-do, do-it-your-self engineering style that brought a new sonic intimacy, while other albums were the product of having time to focus on backburner projects, brought to the fore with the cancellation of tours, live gigs and collaborations. Wrong Feet is in the latter category, a celebration of the music of South African jazz saxophonist Sean Bergin by the Snowapple trio, made up of Laura Polence, Laurien Schreuder and Bergin’s daughter Una.
With whimsical artwork and amusing titles like “Lemon Lullaby,” “Chicken Feet,” “Monster” and “Ginger Tea,” it almost looks and feels like it was meant for children. Yet not. The jaunty artwork of hand-drawn colorful patterned, dancing alligators- uncredited (did Bergin draw these?) sets the tone of the album, but many of the lyrics have a wry sharpness about the foibles of human behavior and tackles heavy topics with good-humored absurdism. This isn’t for kids- but it’s not not for kids, either. It has a kind of pithy airiness that reminds me of Eric Satie. Oppression and the patriarchy get skewered with an endearingly catchy riff in the title track “Wrong Feet.”
Guess we started off on the wrong foot, And your wrong feet Are walking all over me.
No, I don’t eat meat, And I don’t eat fish.
Wrong Feet is a fun listen, full of lovely close harmonies, snappy percussive beats, and citric lyrics. The musicianship is inventive, with strong Afro-Caribbean rhythms, spare clapping, and multiple sonic surprises. The voices are by turns menacing and sweet, sometimes giddy, sometimes restrained in manner, off-setting the cheeky, breeziness of the lyrics. The album is tinged with operatic twists and turns, jazz interludes, do-wop harmonies, sugary pop moments and music-hall tinged theatrics. The trio sings beautifully together and this album shows off their happy talents in a seemingly effortless manner. The album includes Snowapple regulars Alan Purves on drums, Moro Osito Von Ropi on flute, Breno Virícimo on bass guitar, Felicity Provan on trumpet and Michael Moore on saxophone. It has a guileless, artless aesthetic that only works because the group is, in fact, very rehearsed and comfortable with each other. In the album notes Una comments that her father’s music fit them “like an old shoe,” and it is that effortless quality that really makes it shine.
Thus, Wrong Feet offers a welcome bit of focused clarity. It expresses the delight in making ensemble art that is reflected in the music and images. This effect may have been enhanced by the setting of COVID lockdown, which appreciably heightened the social value placed on people being together. It’s not the most complicated effort they may ever embark on, but it is an accessible and appealing gateway to the mercurial world that is Snowapple. I really have a sweet spot for this album, this lovingly made tribute to Sean Bergin’s music. Wrong Feet has real charm, which is a simultaneously a big thing and a little thing. It leaves me wanting to know more about the music of Sean Bergin and to hear more from Snowapple, in all of their manifestations.