REVIEW: ‘Torus’ – James Lindsay

THE WEAVE of warm, incisive melody and textural detail heard in bassist/composer James Lindsay’s Strand (his 2017 debut as leader) takes flight in this new album – a vibrant blend of folk-rock that radiates positivity, freedom and adventure.

Torus, in geometrical, natural and cosmological terms, is explained as ‘a spiralling flow of energy, constantly refreshing and influencing itself’ and informs this recorded “exploration of the flows which connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant”. Communicating those themes, Lindsay integrates himself within the body of an eight-piece instrumental line-up that drives his latest compositions with renewed vigour, certainly ramped-up from the relative homeyness of his original release. That said, amongst its high-energy rock riffs – from a core of electric guitar, keyboards, sax, bass, drums and percussion – the beguiling timbres and inflections of accordion and fiddle firmly root these nine numbers in the evolving folk-music heritage of the bassist’s native Scotland.

Also a member of renowned folk band Breabeach, and with various awards accolades to his name, Glasgow-based Lindsay’s approach to composition and arrangement feels both meticulous and open. There’s a clear sense of journeying threaded through his work that creates a fulgent or sometimes smirr-streaked soundtrack quality. Indeed, though the titles’ sources are varied, the strongest impressions are of Scottish coastal or heather-rich landscapes, with the ever-changing visual and meteorological contrasts they present (aligned to the album’s aspects of regeneration and renewal).

Optimistically-emerging Lateral Roots establishes Lindsay’s intent in an ebullient, contemporary folk-rock reel warmed by the particularly effective textural mesh of unison accordion and sax; and Ben MacDonald’s skittering, hammer-style improvisations can be fleetingly reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth or John Clark. Observatory’s sky-wide ambience brings forth the delightful, rapidly-articulated dance of fiddle and accordion, backed by a crashing, 1980s-hued pop groove; and in Electroreceptor (a system of tissues in a living organism that enables electrical power), suitably syncopated rhythms spark a buzz of overlapping soul-funk conversations throughout its instrumentation. The bass-rasping, synth-laden vigour of Lewisian Complex (referencing north-west Scotland’s ancient, craggy outcrops) has tremors of Depeche Mode or The Human League; but again, it’s fuelled by jazz-rock guitar and vibrant Scots colour, pausing only for the misty Gaelic vocal of Deirdre Graham.

Kalimba droplets and crunchy Rhodes chords prepare the ground for Cycles’ theme-tune riffs and solid beats, while ritualistically-dancing Skekler (a guiser involved in an ancient Shetland custom of banishing winter that includes the beating of wooden staves) culminates in the vehement pound of percussion, urgent fiddle and power chords. Taking Lindsay back to an old haunt, The Smiddy’s chirpy folk melodies become lusciously underpinned at one point by Moog bass, and Jinibara (the indigenous people of Queensland, Australia – an area once visited by the bassist) is similarly uplifting. To close, the first-light clarity of Holon’s accordion and bass seemingly rises to greet the sun, coruscating with a tapestry of guitar, fiddle and sax.

At times, the narrative of this music might benefit from greater fluctuations of light and shade, occasionally reducing the density to create space (as heard in that pool of atmospheric, vocal serenity) or even a near-silence that might portray dark sky zones, north of the border. But, imagined as the basis – or forerunner – of a mixed-media concept or screenplay score, James Lindsay’s evocations characteristically brim with vitality.

Produced by respected jazz and folk musician/engineer Euan Burton, Torus is released on 23 April 2021 and available as a limited-edition CD, or digital download, at Bandcamp.

 

Angus Lyon accordion
Ben MacDonald electric guitars
Deirdre Graham vocals (on Lewisian Complex)
Jack Smedley fiddle
John Lowrie keyboard
James Lindsay bass guitar, electric guitar, Moog
Norman Wilmore alto saxophone
Scott Mackay drums
Signy Jakobsdottir percussion

Illustration: ‘Observatory’ by Alice Strange

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD002 (2021)

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REVIEW: ‘Strand’ – James Lindsay

TUMBLING with Gaelic threads which evoke festal reels and climatic atmospheres, Scottish bassist James Lindsay’s Strand – his debut as leader – melds grooving jazz, traditional folk and zesty rock to create a tapestry of airy, attractive landscapes.

A regular session musician and arranger, Glasgow-based Lindsay won the Martyn Bennett prize for composition in 2014 and is also a member of multi-award-winning folk band Breabeach. This programme of eight, broad numbers for sextet features lithe flute and fiddle melodies, instantly placing his original music ‘north of the border’; but don’t be fooled by its initial easy-going nature, as this ensemble works together to produce what becomes an inviting, contrasting weave of warm, incisive melody and textural detail. There are hints of the focus and camaraderie of the BBC’s Transatlantic Sessions – perhaps unsurprising, given that this album’s engineer, Iain Hutchinson, was key to that long-term project – yet the bassist’s jazz sensibilities also imbue his compositions with creative twists of opportunity for he and his players to offer their own improvisational flair.

Scotland’s rich and distinctive musical heritage is evident throughout, as in the mist-clearing expanses of Hebrides Terrace Seamount (the largest undersea mountain in the British Isles) which are coloured by Hamish Napier’s tremulant flute and Adam Sutherland’s lilting, portamento violin; and The Silent Spring‘s soft rivulets of Celtic-tinged melody reflect its compositional inspiration, a hidden stream which now supplies one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries (pianist Tom Gibbs’ sole use of Fender Rhodes throughout this recording contributes greatly in blending tradition with contemporary ideas). Ben Macdonald’s country-rock electric guitar motion underpins Sòdhaigh (one of the isles of Skye), buoyed by fresh, unison flute and fiddle tunes, then side-footed into a tricksy, rhythmic pattern from drummer Scott Mackay; and Shallow Firth‘s more pressing Rhodes-and-guitar dominance echoes the composer’s interest in the work of jazz luminaries Bill Frisell and Ben Wendel.

Lindsay takes much inspiration from his native shores, so UB85, despite its breezy, flutey demeanour, is in fact based on a true story of sea monsters and a sunken German U-boat – and again the transition into another phase (a lurching, Groove Armada-style figure) is delightful, delicately enhanced by Sutherland’s jazz fiddle and Napier’s breathy harmonics. The rhythmic union of Lindsay, Macdonald, Gibbs and Mackay sails blithely around Stacks, supporting a spirited folk tune which celebrates these impressive geographical features of Scotland’s west coast with joyful, Joe Sample-like Rhodes acciaccaturas and trills as well as washy, iridescent seascapes, plus a measure of crashing-wave guitar grit. The soft-rock, up-in-the-clouds impressions of Forvie Sands / Creel (again, landscape-themed) are elegantly dancelike, infused with sustained electric guitar and bluesy fiddle; and widescreen Beaufort’s Dyke (inspired by a Wesleyan hymn tune) closes with a simple, longing sense of ‘going home’.

A few pre-recording studio videos – The Silent Spring, Forvie Sands and Hebrides Terrace Seamount – offer a glimpse of this accessible, fine and heartwarming Scottish excursion.

Released on 2 June 2017, Strand is available as a digital download or limited edition CD from Bandcamp.

 

James Lindsay double bass, compositions
Hamish Napier flute, Wurlitzer
Adam Sutherland fiddle
Ben Macdonald guitar
Tom Gibbs Fender Rhodes
Scott Mackay drums

Cover art: Into the Blue – Jane McMillan

jameslindsaymusic.com

OIR Recordings – OIRCD001 (2017)