Genres will only get you so far. They are fine for obvious music, derivative music, music which follows well defined templates. But when you get to artists such as Alison James you have to abandon such easy labels and dig a little deeper. It’s not that her music doesn’t resonate with recognisable sounds, its just that those sounds are better defined as classic or timeless rather than merely throwing them into a collective pool of similar sounding artists.
Sometimes you have to wait for things to come naturally into your life. This is certainly true of the relationship that Nandan Gautam has had with music. This Baku, Azerbaijan based composer had always been driven to try to make music but his attempts as a younger man didn’t bring him the results or happiness he expected to find there and so he pursued alternative creative outlets instead.
Hexit is an album, and indeed a band, that you arrive at from different directions depending on which musical thread you pull at. The thread that drew me in was a Jim Johnston shaped one but the musical gathering that makes up Hexit is of such a calibre that this album is likely to draw the musically inquisitive in from many different corners. The musical roots of the players found here run deep. In a past and more hyperbolic era, Hexit would probably be referred to as a super-group for dramatic and journalistic purposes at least, but with its ranks made up of people from Hi Fiction Science, The Dead Astronaut, Pigbag and Red Snapper as well as the aforementioned Monk & Canatella man, there are, I guess, less appropriate monikers to use.
And given the interesting history of this musical gang, it is obvious that you are not in for a bunch of three-minute pop songs or narrow genre workouts. No, this is much more interesting…challenging even, taking in warped jazz meanderings, post-rock and proggy structures at its most cerebral and no-wave workouts, experimental kosmiche and post-punk muscle at its most cultish. It walks a fine line between forward planning and improvisation and gives you the feeling that whilst this is the album that they recorded on the day, the following day would have delivered something different and the exact nature and content of any live show that may follow is anyone’s guess.
Hexit is too clever to be merely rock music but stays the right side of art-rock to avoid accusations of pretentiousness and is too together to be free jazz, more of a near-jazz experience. Too original to be just another post-punk referencing bunch of nostalgists, this really is forward-thinking, more interested in where it goes next rather than where it comes from. Dark Sun is a bruised and brooding piece of dystopian jazz-rock, McSly is a tense and terse slice of industrial pop (I’m just making genres up now, you might as well as none of the off the shelf ones work for this album) and Damballa is a uptown cocktail club groover from a band who recently headlined two nights at the Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina. If Clap in Hand was an actual song before it was a punning title, I’ll eat my hat.
Many won’t get this album, some just won’t like it…people don’t like to be challenged these days, being truly original is seen as a suspicious act and not sounding like Oasis has just been declared a hate crime by the politically correct little darlings. But if you are the sort of person who’s idea of looking for the next new music to fall in love with is exploring the basement bars of late night Antwerp’s underground scene, then you are going to find a lot to like here.
We are witnessing a burgeoning jazz scene in London, a resurgence that looks set to give us a return of the jazz filled 20s once again. One of the driving forces at the heart of this tidal wave of compelling, new music, is British-Bahraini composer and trumpet player, Yazz Ahmed, who has been cited as ‘redefining what jazz means in the 21st century’. La Saboteuse Remixed is her latest offering, released on Naim Records this summer.
Following the 2017 release of La Saboteuse, her highly acclaimed psychedelic Arabic jazz album, this remix EP brings together three of Europe’s eminent electronic DJs. This confluence of individual artistic visions creates music of deeply saturating polyrhythms, placing the listener into a curious state of relaxed tension. The sense of a personal narrative runs through all of Ahmed’s work and here is no exception. La Saboteuse as a whole is a journey of self-examination and with this remix EP, the reflection continues in both linear and abstract directions.
Just as some of the best and most unique experiences happen when you go off grid, as it were, where the generic road runs out and turns to unexplored creativity, when art runs out of rules to follow; so music often only truly comes to life when you run out of labels to easily capture its essence. The music found on Flow might in part be ambient, neo-classical, progressive, chilled cinematic sound score, post-rock, post-jazz, post-everything but no one term can sum up more than a fraction of its beauty, so at that point you might as well stop trying.
Even terms like songs or tracks seems too inappropriate words, for what Flow do is create cinematic scores for films which haven’t even been made yet, but which just, through their sonic grace, conjure a thousand images. Images of wind-swept vistas, dream-like worlds, night time city streets, ancient landscapes and far flung regions of space. It is chamber-pop, of the most delicate sort, and although they describe themselves as “new age” this is also from a very old age, the trumpet which provides many of the haunting melodies linking them back to a modern take on a renaissance sound. Better to call it timeless and accept that like all the best music in such territory it contains elements from the length and breadth of human creativity.
Free Ascent sounds like what perhaps the soundtrack to Blade Runner would have sounded like if Vangelis had taken a more pastoral route, For Rosita and Giovanni takes us to more Mediterranean climes and Waters Gather drips with drama and gentle majesty. It’s a graceful album, a subtle album, a clever album, one concerned with the simple task of creating intricacy and beauty, a task it accomplishes effortlessly and completely.
Shoes combines everything I love about music. It’s all very well for perky pop princesses and production line indie kids with complicated hair to pose and preen, throw around instantly forgettable day-glo tunes and play the commercial game, but I think that they are missing a trick, missing the whole point of making music. Music has its finest moments when it is being dark and sexy, has something to say and someone to seduce, when it shines a light on the seedier and more complicated things in life and Shoes does all that and more.
A slinky, jazz-infused, bluesy-Americana sound beats at the core, violins deliver some ethereal, almost classical lines, pianos shimmer and chime and a saxophone, scientifically proven to be the most sexy, sassy and sultry instrument ever envisaged, oozes through the gaps. And if that wasn’t enough there is real lyrical depth here, flitting across scenes and scenarios, posing questions, seeking salvation, freely mixing the profane and the profound in the same sort of way that Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen would paint literary pictures. Only less weird that the former and less up tight than the latter.
It covers a lot of ground that’s for sure, 4 minutes of this and you will feel like you have lived, loved, longed for and lost enough for a life time.
Outermost Edge is a collection of songs which sees contemporary classical music heading into experimental jazz territory and takes the form of sonic creations which happens as much between the notes and in the breaths between the lyrics as in the more conventional sonic communications. There is a wonderful minimalism and deft composition at work here, every beat, every pass of the violin bow, every poetic line, has been honed and whittled to provide the most impact with the least presence. It’s an art which often seems missing in the bombastic and showboating of the modern musical world.
If opening salvo Black Drops wanders the same off-kilter modern classical pathways as the likes of Karl-Heinz Stockhauser and the desolate musical spaces of Philip Glass, it is followed by the sultry, jazz tones of Serves All Loss a piece which seems to conjure black and white noir-ish cinematics and European sophistication. And it is between these two extremes that the album makes its way, adding hints of electronica, sounds gathered from various world music and neighbouring genres but always used to create cool understatement and beguiling sounds.
But even within these parameters boundaries are pushed and rules flaunted. Silence in Between comes at you like a scratched 78 rpm record, creating off-beat jumps and glitches as part of its own sonic personality, Andalusia is a sweeping, distant sounding summation of exotic climes and Way Out is a strange blend of whimsical calypso and lilting pop rhythms somewhat at odds with its apocalyptic lyrical nature.
Outermost Edge is an exercise in virtuosity reduced to its minimal requirements, there is no questioning the skill and technical ability of all involved but as always it is a testament to the bravery of leaving space, of knowing what not to play and of drawing the listener in to the atmospherics and moods that swirl around between the heard and the anticipated.
I’ve been saying it for a while now, there is something in the air, a change, a need to comment, something borne out by the fact that I seem to be receiving more and more music which has a message about the darkness gathering in the world at the moment and the need to push back against it. Music has always been a potent force to inform and energise people, to call to arms like minded folk and to put your thoughts and observations on record for all to see. Some bands make music which counterpunches with rhetoric and rabble rousing, some makes music which examines and debates and some, like Skip, fights back in the sweetest, gentlest way possible an approach which seems to make it all the more powerful in a sort of David and Goliath fort of way.
And whereas most artists advocate a need to combat the problems of the world, Skip instead encourages you to embrace your inner child and follow the instructions in the title and skip! Why? well, because skipping is fun, it reminds us of our formative years, it allows us to forget things for a while and once you learn how to momentarily let go the world doesn’t seem so bad. But also if it raises a smile on one other person, makes someone laugh, even make someone join in then you have made the world a slightly nicer place to be in, if only for a moment and if enough people do that change will come. It is tackling the earths ills through holistic happiness, start anywhere you want, do something no matter how small and you are part of the change.
The song runs on a sort of mix of pop-jazz infectiousness and old-school music hall and the result is wonderful. Scat singing, cascades of piano, brass salvos and the most addictive chorus you have heard in a long time and the important message “war makes you old, skipping keeps you young” resonates throughout. It is a message to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, The Iraq War and every other war and disaster which needs some love and laughter to help those effected to get through.
Sometimes the simplest messages are the most effective, forget the political rants and idealistic raves, those who have the answers and know how to fix society. Sometimes you have to just reduce everything down to its most childlike quality, embrace the simplicity and innocence and just skip through the eye of the storm. It’s sometimes that simple.
There is a wonderful visual metaphor running through the video for Indira May’s debut single, or is it a simile, I should know the difference really. Anyway, the point is that visually the video paints a suitably strange picture, one of a world that mixes the past and present, the slick and the sleazy, a place where fashion, conformity, expectation and even the very notion of gender is a very fluid concept. And that is totally in keeping with a record which does the same with its sonic make up.
It is easy to hear classic jazz and blues hints in both the vocal delivery and the lazy, sultry groove that the song runs on. But equally it plays with a post-modern take on the same, a contemporary splicing of the past and the present, the classic and the cutting edge, old-school elegance and modern sass. Genres are almost a thing of the past, pop is where you find it and even if this isn’t pop music, in the strictest sense, it is damn sure to give pop music a run for its money.
There is some music which transcends genres. I’m not saying that in a sensationalist way or to invoke the modern trend for hyperbole, it is just that some music is built along such classic lines that it predates the contemporary need for generic labels and neat pigeon holes. Okay, there is a touch of jazz eclecticism to be found, soulful vibes abound and the balance between the neo-classic piano which forms the foundation of the e.p. and the deft designs and clever musical motifs built from rock, pop and indie that adds the sonic detail hint at the familiar. But for the most part it seems to create a genre of its own, partially because it is happy to hop generic boundaries at will but mainly because it doesn’t conform enough to any one. Eclecticism is the name of the game.
The more driven end of the music, songs such as Lethe with its sultry dance groove and Xtralarge, which rounds things off, have something of Kate Bush about them, an overused reference point I know but there is something in the singular vision, the same willingness to ignore trend and fashion and make music which conforms only the artists own musical rule book.
Higher is built on a wonderful play off of soulful lead vocals and sumptuous banks of harmonies, exquisitely show-casing Em’s sweet and sensual voice, able to whisper gently in the listeners ear to create intimacy but also able to push upwards to create dynamic and drama. La Belle Etoile is perhaps the most intriguing of songs, the natural beauty of the sound of its French lyrics blending with dreamy textures and arabesque vibes to create a wonderful blend of eastern exoticism and western pastoral chill.
It’s a stunning collection of songs, seeming not tied to culture, clime, genre or generation, a timeless, restless musical soundscape that captures all the beauty of the past and all the potential of the present. I guess that is how you build the sound of the future.
Picture courtesy of Clair Price
It is safe to say that Robocobra Quartet confuse the hell out of me, and this short, sharp, shock of a number has done little to help me get my head around their strange musical blend. But fear is our greatest enemy and the unknown is often the place that reveals the most unexpected rewards. Okay…I’m going in!
Driving backbeat and heavy bass provides a platform for this rhythmic workout, the riffs and melody seem pushed right back into the foundations of the song, hiding behind the post-rock, wall of noise heart, but they have never really been verse-chorus-verse-chorus, riff lead sort of guys, well not in any conventional sense anyway. At times the song evokes the strangeness of They Might Be Giants, if they had studied jazz and tried to form a metal band, at other times it feels like Talking Heads if they had….well, studied jazz and tried to form a metal band!
It is dark and brooding, challenging and non-conformist, intense and claustrophobic, sort of like being run over by a musical glacier, which then makes you wonder why you didn’t get out of the way first, it’s not like you didn’t have time! And that’s the charm of their music, you might not understand it, you might not even see what it is trying to do, you may not even be able to put into words what you like about it, but once you spend even a small amount of time in their sonic world you become a rabbit in its headlights. Its slow-moving, hypnotic, all consuming headlights. If glaciers had headlights!
More info and music HERE
Revelling in the past is all very well and good but the best music, or at least the most original, seems to be made as people move things forward. It’s evolution, it’s forward-thinking, it is the way the world turns. Miles Casella is the sound of the world turning and music moving into pastures new. Yes, you can break the song apart and find very recognisable musical building blocks being used, but it is what they are used to build which is the real charm.
Over a lazy and sultry trip-hop groove he hangs soulful vibes, cool jazz, sensual saxophones and wonderfully affected vocals. Hey Fine beats with a hip-hop heart but it also evokes a timeless blues bar jam, and a strange blend of cocktail lounge sophistication and urban street smarts. But I guess that is how the whole scene rolls forward and you can run a thread through blues, jazz and soul that eventually takes you to hip-hop and then beyond as that in turn has evolved into its own offshoots and sub-genres But they all come from the underground, form honest expression, from the heart, which is why blending them together seems such a natural thing to do. So natural that it is amazing that no one has managed to weave them together this brilliantly before. Then again, there always has to be someone who gets there first!
There does seem to be a change in the urban genres of late, hip-hop, rap and R&B seems to be struggling to write its next chapter and whilst you have to admire anyone who tries to find new musical ground to conquer, thread new ideas and styles together, most of these musical experiments seem to have been the sonic equivalent of dropping a hand grenade into the middle of the listener’s expectations and then trying to rearrange the debris into new and pleasing shapes. Sure, you really shake things, and then some, but you also find that the result is normally, well…a total disaster. But all these terrible chimeric creations and monstrous genre-splicing acts merely to highlight just how right Miles Casella gets it.
And even though there is a wonderful familiarity to the song, Hey Fine does feel like a first, a bold step forward, a post-genre style that pushes beyond the rules and regulations, ignores the fickle finger of fashion and has no time for musical guardians and narrow-minded pedants telling it what hip-hop should be about. Maybe we should stop using genres, labels, pigeon-holes altogether, after all it really is lazy journalists, like myself, who employ them to make our lives easier, after all Miles Casella clearly isn’t worried about genres and their narrow demarcations and maybe that is a lesson to all of us.
Having watched Brickwork Lizards at Wychwood Festival in 2017, I can say, honestly and without doubt, that they are one of the most imaginative, inventive, and musically intoxicating bands I have ever encountered. Stumbling upon this creative concoction of a band purely by accident, I was so inspired by the music of Brickwork Lizards that I bought their debut album Zaman (originally released in 2011) as soon as they had finished their set. Showcasing a variety of genres and stylistic influences, the hypnotic hybrid that is ‘Haneen’ fuses traditional Middle Eastern music with twentieth-century jazz.
A central motif of the album, vocalist Tom O’Hawk punctuates each song with spoken verse; staccato in nature, yet powerful in tonal quality, O’Hawk’s lyrical dexterity is often augmented by an alluring accompaniment of cello, double bass, and piano. Opening the album, All That We Are clearly displays O’Hawk’s seamless interplay with Tarik Beshir’s oud playing and Malachy O’Neil’s slapstick double bass sound. Lyrics, such as ‘Beyond the depths of greed’ and ‘People strive for more,’ highlight the atmosphere of belonging that hovers above this track, while the use of vocal call and response between Beshir and the other members of the band ultimately helps to reinforce an image of nostalgia, yearning, and identity. Similarly, Ya Rayah – meaning ‘You, the one leaving’ in Arabic – evokes feelings of longing and wistfulness, with Stephen Preston’s trumpet solo dancing gracefully above a string accompaniment (playing pianissimo). Reflecting the playfulness of Dixieland jazz, We’re Through boasts a powerful, monophonic voice to sustain the songs melodic energy and vigour; reaching a climatic ending, O’Hawk’s and Beshir’s fortissimo vocals also help to enhance the animated and spirited nature of the track.
A listener greets the face of almost every human emotion in this album: from love to despair, and from rage to remorse. I would not describe Brickwork Lizards latest work as a conventional album. By this I mean that, while it structurally resembles your average album (complete with a quirky cover and ten tracks), it defies convention by daring to merge so many paradoxical genres together. ‘Haneen’ is more like a painting that lives in an ancient palace, than an album that sits in the corner of a record store. It’s a painting that ultimately stands testament to a forgotten era, and reveals all the charm, passion, confusion, and sincerity of an empire lost.
In a world that seems to be brimming over with guys with guitars, pop troubadours and fey, indie-folksters it would be very wrong to place Nick Harper anywhere amongst their ranks. Yes, he is a guy. Okay, he has a guitar. But that is where the similarity ends to the new kids on the singer-songwriters block (and whilst we are at it, it’s not a genre!) Over a 12 album career to date he has constantly defied and re-defined what that term means and what it can be, wilfully trampling generic boundaries, switching styles and probably inventing a few of his own along the way. History notes that he met the “Wilderness Kids” at a record store day jam and the sonic potential of a more permanent musical relationship was obvious to everyone. It comes as no surprise as you listen to the album that the “kids”in question are members of Port Erin and Wasuremono, two bands with a similar wide ranging and hard to pigeonhole approach towards rock and pop.
“350 reasons why, written on the side of a bus” is the opening salvo of the album, and straight away you realise that Nick, as always, has something important to tell you. Colours are nailed to masts, sides are chosen and lines are drawn in the sand. Essentially Lies! Lies! Lies! is a comment on the state of the western world, from the manipulation of the masses for political gain to the ugly consumerism of Black Friday, the rise and increasing normalisation of right wing attitudes, to religion, globalisation and everything in between. Lyrically and poetically he just says what many of us think, though the likes of Big Tony who drinks in The George and Dragon may well find himself seething into his pint of John Smiths!
And if the words are as honest as they are challenging, then musically it is just as groundbreaking. Nick has always had the ability to capture a massive sound with just an acoustic guitar, one loaded with rock intensity, folk infectiousness, jazz creativity and classical dexterity, well now he has a band to push that into even wider sonic realms. Leaving The Club is a bluesy groover, Tiina is a lilting ballad with brooding undertones, We Keep Turning Right is built on funky-jazz rhythms and Dark Forces is a fluid and mercurial post-rock growler. It’s a triumph of an album, musically exploratory, lyrically direct and the perfect musical product for our times.
There is an obvious point that if a vote or decision doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making the argument, if that is the case then this is the most pointed and poignant musical debate I have heard in a long time and 48% of the country should buy it immediately.
There are some artists who just make genreless music. Music which wanders the sonic landscape with no regard for the lines and boundaries marked on a map, one drawn up in a secret meeting of industry marketing men and music journalists. After all out here there is just the music, no neat boxes, no easy demarkations and whilst that might cause problems for the scribes and planners, it allows totally freedom to artists such as Jo Potter, an artist who, quite rightly, works in a place simply called music.
It is this blurring of lines and blending of sounds that allows her to build a personal musical identity, some of which is familiar but pieced together in a wonderfully unique way. Too slick to be pop, to soothing to be rock, it weaves soulfulness and jazz sophistication around a country heart, bluesy melancholic undercurrents and a gentle late night beauty.
At it’s most groovesome, such as on tracks like When Things Go Wrong you can hear the sound of Nashville glitz dancing with the smokey blues of an upmarket Chicago blues bar glamour, but what I love most about Saved is the more intimate moments. Indeed the title track itself is a song Norah Jones would be proud of and Something also sitting on that same jazz to country arc of her early albums.
Saved is a gorgeous album, not only blending the roots of Americana music into effortlessly cool and deftly built music for a modern and mature audience, but it showcases what a wonderfully classic voice Jo has, one which puts her on a line which runs back through the likes of the aforementioned Jones to Sade and beyond back to Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee.
Nostalgia can be a comfort, especially in such turbulent times, but what is so great about Jo’s sophomore album is that whilst you can see where it is coming from, the musical references that she tips her hat to, what she has fashioned here is a collection of songs which at once sound fresh and modern yet could be a long lost recording by any number of musical greats. Sometimes you can sound familiar, sometimes you can sound forward thinking, there aren’t many artists able to do both at the same time.
As the central hub around which the musically intricate world of Karda Estra revolves, Richard Wileman has been responsible for a wide range of wonderfully textured, unpredictable and eclectic music. He has wandered from intense noir-ish soundtracks to sweeping celestial grandeur and embarked on everything from progressive Avant Gardening trips to jazz infused meanderings. But everyone needs some time out now and again and so here we find him playing with a musically straighter bat. Voice, acoustic guitar, a guest Clarinet for the final track and little else, a far cry from the usual musical layers we find him swathed in but no less glorious a result.
The title track is one of emotive acoustica dressed with just a few musical motifs and sonic embellishments, simple yet stylish and acutely reflective. Best of all after producing a body of, if not instrumental work then music where vocals are used more as ethereal instruments, we hear Richard sing and immediately wonder way we haven’t got to hear more of this with Karda Estra.
Andromeda Variations takes some classical Latin guitar pathways but the songs that top and tail the e.p, The Veil and Chaos Theme For Clarinet, skirt his more familiar territory. What is both exciting and revealing is that these compositions feel like they are the sound of Karda Estra as first thoughts, its ideas refined, polished but retained as more direct and immediate musical communiques, you can occasionally see the same sonic thumbprint in evidence but here the joy lies not in the way those ideas are built into complete musical worlds but in their straightforward and unadorned beauty.
Ghost is a wonderful view into what the composer himself sounds like with the depth of his compositions stripped away, the beating heart and the nerve centre of the whole affair. But more interestingly with the complexity and therefore live logistics of his usual widescreen sound stripped away, does this e.p. herald Richard Wileman as a more regular live performer? I do hope so.
Even on paper, The NJE, standing for Near Jazz Experience, is a fascinating concept. Horn led, jazz infused, pop/rock instrumentals, largely unrehearsed and improvised but built on some solid yet supple underlying grooves. But jazz for the purist this isn’t, unless that particular purist also has a hankering for strange proto-Krautrock meets Motown grooves, skittering back beats and rock music on Avant gardening leave.
The album wanders between some big-beat, groovy floor fillers, albeit best-suited to a strange dance club where anything goes and minds are broad when it comes to the generic what is and what isn’t, and music which just seems to pull the floor away from under you. It inhabits the world of the freeform jam but just as easily snaps into a more focused, more song driven mind set and it’s highlights are just as likely to be found in long form rambles as they are in concise hook laden jazz-pop blasts.
This isn’t an album to approach like the usual collection of songs, although undoubtedly each song is a separate train of musical thought. It is at once a holistic album following a singular musical idea and a scattergun deliver of songs within songs, musical tangents and boundless experimentation. It is also one that whilst based in a loose jazz setting spills over into any number of other genres, re-appropriating the best ideas, forms and sounds and bending those into the Near Jazz Experience.
In short approach with caution, an open mind and willingness to have your generic preconceptions shattered…and then some.
It isn’t very often that new genres present themselves and if they do they normally don’t stand up to too much scrutiny, usually being akin to genre-spliced musical Frankenstein’s Monster, a revolutionary idea on paper but with an end result which is far from palatable. Caterpillar Chronicles, however, is anything but such a clumsy hybrid but is instead a slick blend of cutting edge hip-hop, timeless classical lines, sophisticated jazz vibes and an honesty born from the soul and gospel undercurrents which bring the whole thing together like an unseen musical glue, more presence than substance.
Having accidently joined the school orchestra instead of jazz band at a young age, John soon fell in love with the violin and began a carer which saw him study and perform with the instrument at the highest levels, learn from some of the most iconic names and play as a member of, and composed for, the most highly regarded orchestras and ensembles working today. So what do you do once you have conquered such musical heights? In John’s case the answer is to write, arrange and perform all of the music for an album which chronicles your own life and which is a wonderful fusion of the traditional and the modern, rap and rapture, the beat driven and the beautiful, the street and the Stradivarian.
It is interesting to note that his chosen nickname is actually an acronym, All Day I Dream About Music and this album is indeed proof that his dreams are vivid, wide ranging and musically boundless. Caterpillar is a slow, R&B groove, Rain Please Stay is an emotive soulful, staccato ballad and Who Cares is a wonderful slice of modern classical reminiscent of another contemporary classical fusionist, Ed Alleyne Johnson, had he not been an Oxford University busker but brought up in one of Michigan’s tough inner-cities.
And if the music is exploratory, the lyrics also cover a lot of ground, weaving his faith through social commentary, trying to match the ideals he adheres to with the tougher, grittier world of modern urban life. But the importance of this album may not lie so much in the individual songs, great as they are, but in the way they are put together, that subtle and supple joining of musical worlds that rarely meet. Worlds which often represent very different paths through life and The Caterpillar Chronicles is the perfect reminder that we are not very different from one another other and that one ill planned or random act can change the whole course of your life, often for the good of everyone it touches.
I have to confess that harmonica led jazz is not my normal area of expertise, but that’s fine, it just means that I get to drop my bag of well-worn indie clichés and pop puns and approach the music like the wide-eyed music lover that I have always been. And there is a lot to love here.
The album is nothing if not musically exploratory and a wonderful reminder that music is just as expressive in telling stories as lyrics are. The slow build and percussive drama of Cold War, the sweeping grace of Nirvana, the skittering, the fractured beauty of Danilissmo and the more traditional beats of Prepared Prayer all evoking images and setting scenes far better than any words could.
But music is a transaction between the composer and the listener and without the limitation of words, the music paints pictures and conjures ideas and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions, you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. In just one listen I saw galaxies dying and being reborn, nighttime city streets, I viewed the world from the top of mountains and I swam in its deepest oceans. All that and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet.
And the idea of music as a film score or even an acoustic story in its own right is further reinforced by the tantalizing use of found sounds, street conversations, running water, random noise and other sonic minutiae from everyday life. Maybe this album is a film waiting to be made, a role reversal that sees the music dictating the story rather than following its lead. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.
Musically, Hidden Landscapes draws lines connecting South American landscapes with sophisticated European jazz clubs, others which link chilled soundscapes with ambient film scores and then it connects places and thoughts, emotions and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of those lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding musician.
Music has many varied functions, some is designed to fire you up ready for a night on the town, some is a chilled wave to relax to, some inspires you to change the world, some gives you an escape from it. This is more like the music of the isolation tank, music which requires your complete emersion, demands that you just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, is intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Hidden Landscapes does nothing less than aim for your very soul.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of exploring the music too closely, right from the off the two things that scream out at me as I dip my toe in its sonic waters are the sheer eclecticism and the texturing of sounds. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Steely Dan’s Aja and there are more than a few similarities – the innate soulfulness, the progressive landscapes containing wonderfully accessible ideas, the execution of the musicians that somehow combines precision with a loose and often louche style. And simply the sheer scope of the territory being explored.
But this isn’t the seventies nor is it the West Coast. This is the 21st century and this is the West Midlands, which probably has a lot to do with the record’s often darker, more overcast and psychedelic vibe. Whereas with the aforementioned Aja you need to put on sun block just to listen to it, this has a more primal, edgy and ancient feel, even when grooving out on a sonorous jazz vibe or a funky shuffling beat.
This used to be called fusion music which normally meant either a rock band with ideas above its station or a bunch of jazz-hands dumbing down to find more lucrative markets. Thankfully this feels a million miles away from either but much more natural, just a collection of musicians conducting interesting genre-splicing experiments in hidden basements.
Pagan jazz? Psych-soul? Primal-funk? It doesn’t really matter what you call it as I doubt there will be enough bands who ever come close enough to these brilliant and mind bending sounds that we are going to need to think of a collective label. A genre of one? Why indeed not?
If you have mainly encountered Nick, as I have, in the guise of solo, acoustic guitar slinging, jazz tinged, folk-pop performer then what you will find in his move from lonesome troubadour to minimalist band leader is the ability to combine the best of both worlds.
At the heart of the sound is the familiar balladry, emotionally driven personal narratives and rich vocal tones but now there is some wonderful sonic augmentation. Nothing too dominating, just additional details, which gently colour the musical landscape, enrich the flavours of the songs and add some extra depth. The advantage of working with songs, which have had a life of their own already, just as live favourites Don’t, 3am and Sadder Than Sad have, is that they have already proven to be more that up to the job and require nothing more than a quick studio polish rather than a complete rejuvenation.
It would have been easy for Nick to get a bit over excited when embarking on this new recording as it marks a gentle change of, if not direction then certainly logistical approach and any change of tack opens up a range of new potential and a change to explore. But Nick is too seasoned a musician to get overly carried away with such distractions and if you cut him open you would find the words “less is more is a cliché because it’s true” written spiral like around his creative soul, like a stick of rock…or roots rock at least. . Thus he manages to retain the grace and grandeur that you associate with his songs whilst still bringing new sounds into those familiar musical spaces.
So from now on get used to seeing Nick performing as part of a musical gang again but on the strength of this recording it would seem that he has pulled off that rare trick of adding much without losing any of the inherent qualities he is already known for. Clever bugger!
Listen to the album, buy it and more information HERE
If opening track Geisterschiff suggests a return to the dark elegance and noir-ish film vibe of Elephant, as soon as Papiermond kicks in you realise that this isn’t going to be just a new journey through previous sonic pastures. Yes, those rich elements are still there, the classic, and at times, classical vocal deliveries reminiscent of the opulence and style of the Weimar era, but now something mercurial, strange and almost otherworldly has entered the mix.
Papiermond in particular is intense and claustrophobic, a mix of the familiar, the exploratory and the inexplicable. Plaintive guitar strokes are consumed by the sounds of alien radio interference and fairy tale monsters before Le-Thanh’s late night, jazz diva voice emerges from the chaos and this acts as the perfect template of what is to follow.
The album wanders between worlds, one very real and recognisable, driven by the hushed, smoky vocals and the minimal instrumentation that forms a fragile musical net behind and one made of strange, brooding and often horrific sounds. Even in the sweetest moments there is an unresolved tension, a dam about to break, a wave of street noise bleeding in from other places, the sound of transport systems and radio interference, primordial whispers and the sound of the universe pulsing away.
It is this balance of wandering across this boundary that creates the wonderful struggle that give this album its strange beauty, this collision of the known and the unknown, the real and the fantastic, the calm and the catastrophic.
Anyone coming from Elephant to this will find themselves presented with much that is familiar but equally much that isn’t. If that album suggested elegant rooms and cool, opulent settings, Staub resets the scene to one of dark corners and desperate places, of streets filled with danger and desire, of the barriers between dimensions being stretched so thin that the sounds of those alien worlds spills through and of the crackling and groaning of the universe itself. That’s a long way to travel in the name of music!
Richard Wileman has used the Karda Estra musical mode of transport to explore some very interesting places over the years. From progressive landscapes, taut horrific scores, dark noir-ish themes and even the death of galaxies, and the music always matches both the depth and breadth of the subject matter it is encapsulating.
And if last time out The Seas and The Stars placed him at a very Moorcock-esque location, looking up from an empty shore to witness the collision of The Andromeda galaxy and our own, that blend of science fiction and science fact which is never far from the surface is again the topic of instrumental conversation for his latest album.
The Fermi Paradox is a tug of war between super slick jazz and a spot of musical avant-gardening, matching the contrasting arguments of the Paradox itself; that contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and the high estimates proposed by The Drake Equation. I mention this only because it explains the both theoretical and physical nature of the journey that this album takes you on.
Pastoral tones are layered over a piano loaded with anticipation and expectation accompany our wandering around the dwarf planet Ceres, whilst Obelisk Of Cruithne is built from sinister tones and brooding staccato deliveries before wandering off into electric space fuzz and alien radio noise.
We visit theoretical locations such as the controversial Theia through waves and washes of sound, white noise bleeding into music and vice versa and end up amongst the gas swirls of Tyche and some suitably sixties, sci-fi sound tracking.
As always it is a truly unique experience, a sort of beat-era space opera, a musical journey from the smooth and familiar to the challenging and mercurial just as the themes explored takes us into unexplored territories, distant locations and hypothetical realms. I should imagine that if history were different and Serge Gainsbourg had been the first man in space, this is exactly the sort of thing he would have been listening to as he left earth’s atmosphere.
Twenty years and nine albums down the line from his debut release, The Latin Jazz Project, and Tony Marino is still expertly exploring the boundaries and back roads of that genre. This new album takes instrumental excursions through myriad sub-genres, from the expected Samba, Calypso and Funk to the more niche grooves associated with the carnival vibes of Frevo and the percussive urges of Baiao.
I have to confess that I am not as well versed in the intricacies of jazz as I would like, so I will apologies to aficionados for the absence of a detailed unpacking of the music. But then most of us approach such things, as a punter and consumer, which is fine, as those with only a casual relationship with the genre, like myself, will find an accessible, infectious and hypnotic collection of sounds within.
Forget the mechanics, music for my money is all about evocation, the painting of visions and vistas, a conjuring of people and places and here there is no shortage of images brought to life as these magical sounds pass before your ears. Draw a line connecting Brazilian carnivals to Cuban dancehalls, another from chilled beach parties to ancient African rhythms and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars and patterns dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this outstanding composer.
If you have found contemporary jazz too impenetrable, too complex, then maybe this is the place to start. Not only does the straighter delivery of the Latin groove sit more easily on the listener, but also the gathering of global influences keeps things nicely fresh and spontaneous. This fusion of world sounds hits a high point on Pradeep and Neera, a tabla drum driven groover that matches classical India rhythms with modern jazz piano, orient meets occident, to fantastic effect.
And it is this disregard for cultural boundaries that is the charm of the album, rather than explore just the one musical path way to exhaustion, Tony Marino is set on gathering the largest amount of experiences, casting his net wide and taking in a broad range of musical styles. But it is then what he does with these musical building blocks that is the key, for despite the wandering and exploratory nature of the album; there is a consistency and house style that turns this coming together of ideas a unique brand.
And as a mere punter, I can easily see the attraction of this wonderful collection of tunes and it’s subtly changing dynamic means that it fits in as chilled background music, conducive to a quiet night in but crank the volume up and you have nothing short of a very sophisticated party sound-track.
Jazz fans will appreciate the dexterity of playing and the deftness of the compositions, regular punters will find a groovesome and fun re-examination of seductive and sensual sounds but everyone will find something to love in a collection of musical soundscapes that have one foot firmly planted firmly in Latin jazz but the other stepping out to explore the world and its music.
Here’s the scene. I’m sat at a desk with a tower of CD’s precariously stacked either side of me, both probably contravening any number of health and safety laws and falling largely into two categories. Those on the left still think it is a good idea to try and recreate the heyday of Green Day; those on the right seem enthralled by The Libertines musical chaos. The thought of writing about either isn’t filling me with much joy. Thank goodness for Tom Greer’s latest fab and groovy waxing landing on my desk (well, inbox but that ruins the image somewhat.)
Say It is a contemporary jazz odyssey, wandering through soundscapes and structures, which seem to link more traditional forms with the free flowing ethic of nu-jazz. As such it is cool enough to appeal to the modern fan but also is crafted from building blocks that will appeal to the more demanding purist. Originally two versions of the track were recorded with Tom providing vocals for one and Sarah Wade, an artist who’s path seems to run parallel to and occasionally entwining with his, the other. Thankfully some clever label head honcho pointed out that a duet version incorporating both vocalists was the way to go and the result is a wonderful trade off of rich and emotive vocals.
Not a jazz fan? Well, maybe this is the place to give it a go. Marvel at the virtuosity of the playing, the groovesome beats, the skittering percussion, the pulsing bass lines, the mesmerising intricacies of the song…whatever works for you but believe me, after a couple of listens you will be asking yourself why you haven’t explored the genre more fully. Great music can do that to you.