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)

‘Jam Experiment’ – Jam Experiment

jamexperiment

IT’S MORE THAN ENOUGH to make the heart sing – a quintet of young musicians, on the threshold of successful lifetime careers, presenting a jazz/funk/soul album of remarkable musicianship and expressive depth.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

Available directly from the band’s website.

 

Alexander Bone alto and tenor saxophones, synth pads/keyboards
Rory Ingham trombone
Toby Comeau keyboard, piano
Joe Lee electric bass
Jonny Mansfield drums, percussion

jam experiment.com

Self-released, sponsored by Yanagisawa (2017)

‘Evolution: Seeds & Streams’ – John Ellis

johnellis_evolution

THE OCCASIONS when art coincides with one’s own surroundings and experiences can be pretty special, even life-affirming; when music, in particular, somehow reveals its power to three-dimensionalise the here and now whilst also more brightly illuminating itself.

An unlikely setting for my recent experience of this was a softly sunny, three-hour southbound drive along the M6 and M5 – and the looped, Sunday morning soundtrack: John Ellis’ Evolution: Seeds & Streams. This new instrumental release began life as a 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival commission, the original music of the Manchester-based pianist, singer, composer, producer (and founder member of The Cinematic Orchestra) accompanied by visual projections from artist Antony Barkworth Knight.

Daniel Halsall’s intriguingly minimal cover art offers little insight as to what lies in waiting – yet inside, a ten-piece ensemble, with John Ellis’ piano at the centre, presents a compelling, unfolding soundscape. Perhaps now somewhat clichéd, music can often be described as ‘a journey’; but it was this inspired line-up (including kora players Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh and John Haycock), offering a blend of jazz, world, folk and cyclic minimalism, which connected so markedly with the contrasting urban and rural fluctuations of that motorway passage, and have continued to enthral ever since.

One of the attractive characteristics of Ellis’ music is that it doesn’t rely on spotlight soloing to make such a deep impression. Instead, it achieves this through congruous shape-shifting textures and highlights from acoustic instruments and synthesiser which, despite an often repetitious basis, never become jaded. It’s as if composer and musicians paint their broad canvas so sensitively that they leave sufficient white space for the listener to contribute, thereby becoming involved emotionally; and its accessible, melodic hypnotism gradually pervades the air like a richly fragrant balm.

Flight‘s resonant, synthesised ‘womb’ ostinato gives rise to the ebb and flow of brass, reeds and cello, all coloured by subtle piano, flute, percussion and bird calls, with distinctive kora evoking a Toumani Diabete-like sound world – an unusual yet heavenly blend. Seamlessly changing scene, Sam Healey’s lyrical alto in the first of two interludes segues into Unidentical Twins, whose open, eastern calm strengthens to include the most rapturously phrased trombone improvisations from Ellie Smith; and Interlude Two‘s electronic cityscape momentum, tempered with cello and piano embellishments, feeds into The Ladder which possesses an echoic electric piano groove redolent of Soft Machine and reverberates with gently mesmeric, Steve Reichian overlaps.

Led by Helena Jane Summerfield’s clarinet, Poemander‘s homely, tuneful charm is again delicately enhanced by dual kora – but also note the luscious, close-knit brass and woodwind arrangements which swirl like a gentle but purposeful breeze. Electronic subtones in A Bigger Cake (and a keyboard motif which might even recall Supertramp) prompt Ellis’ delightfully chromatic, free-spirited jazz progressions; and Arrival‘s simple, folksong oasis features the haunting, wide portamento of Jessica MacDonald’s cello and an abundant instrumental summation of this whole, wondrous experience.

One of 2015’s most satisfying surprise packages, this album is now in the car glovebox as part of an essential ‘survival kit’.

Released on 11 November 2016, Evolution: Seeds & Streams is available from Gondwana Records, at Bandcamp, as CD or high-quality digital download (visual projection teaser trailers here).

 

John Ellis piano, keyboard
Pete Turner bass, synthesizer
Helena Jane Summerfield clarinet, tenor sax, flute
Sam Healey alto sax
Ellie Smith trombone
Jessica MacDonald cello
Cali Nyonkoling Kuyateh kora
John Haycock kora
Rick Weedon percussion
Jason Singh beatbox

johnellis.co.uk
antonybarkworthknight.com

Gondwana Records – GONDCD015 (2016)

‘Forward In All Directions’ – Andy Milne & Dapp Theory

AndyMilne

THE DISTILLATION of the genres that the five members of Dapp Theory inhabit and are influenced by produces a new album of quite dazzling musicianship. Directed by pianist and keyboardist Andy Milne, Forward In All Directions primarily exudes jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop, with a dash of vocal poetry – yet this resulting programme of Milne’s ten originals borders on the uncategorizable, such is the breadth of its creativity and eclecticism.

Firmly established on the New York jazz scene and respected highly as both musician and educator, Canadian-born Andy Milne’s CV speaks for itself, including associations with Steve Coleman, Joe Lovano, Archie Shepp and Ravi Coltrane. Dapp Theory has been in existence for some fifteen years and was formed, in Milne’s words, to “tell passionate stories, promote peace and inspire collective responsibility towards uplifting the human spiritual condition.” He sees this latest release – co-produced by renowned Yellowjackets founder Jimmy Haslip – as a milestone; and that sense of celebration is communicated by a personnel equally adept with angulous strength and dreamy lyricism: Aaron Kruziki (reeds and programming), John Moon (vocal poetry), Christopher Tordini (basses) and Kenny Grohowski (drums and percussion). Guesting are Ben Monder (guitar), Jean Baylor (lead vocal) and Gretchen Parlato (additional vocals).

From the percussive complexity and pressing, synthy urgency of opener Hopscotch to the Return To Forever-like wordless vocal balm of Katharsis, there is much to discover here. Indeed, the profusion of the writing, instrumentation and improvisation within this sixty-five minutes is spectacularly whelming on a first hearing – and then different spotlights illuminate the detail over time in an abundant journey of discovery. Photographs illustrates this, its wonderfully crisp, buoyant rhythm supporting a shared, bright lead from Milne’s synth and Aaron Kruziki’s soprano; and Kenny Grohowski’s jazz/rock drumming technique (so well produced) is compelling throughout. A chilling, menacing theme in Search Party is maintained brilliantly by Fender Rhodes, synths and electric bass with sustained, inquiring lines from Ben Monder’s guitar; here, the anxious, megaphone-style vocal poetry of John Moon is well suited.

The combination of Christopher Tordini’s earthy, tensile double bass and Kruziki’s douduk sets up the mysterious Eastern-imbued landscape of In The Mirror, Darkly. Then, conjuring a late ’70s sound world (echoes of Wayne Shorter, Jeff Berlin, Billy Cobham and National Health’s Dave Stewart), Nice To Meet You hits a kind of balanced retro funkiness, Milne’s colourful, chordal acoustic piano chords a key element of this stand-out track. The Trust‘s bass clarinet and sinewy piano sinisterly waltz and intertwine to Tordini’s supple double bass, Milne revelling in the open space; and the grittiness of his Rhodes in How And When Versus What encourages a terrific groove which gives way to serene, guitar-led transcendence (there’s so much in this!).

Dreamy sax-led interlude Fourteen Fingers precedes a final, nine-minute spectacle of ‘prog’ proportions – Headache In Residence – thanks to its slow-burning, overdriven guitar energy. And, as with this entire project, it’s the sum of its parts which defines its ingenuity, Andy Milne and his colleagues evidently putting their heart and soul into it. In all directions… it’s quite a blast!

Released on 8 September 2014, further information, audio clips, purchasing and promo video can be found at Whirlwind Recordings.

 

Andy Milne piano, prepared piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesisers
Aaron Kruziki soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, douduk,
alto saxophone, additional keyboard programming
John Moon vocal poetics (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Christopher Tordini acoustic bass, electric bass
Kenny Grohowski drums and percussion
with guests
Ben Monder guitar
Jean Baylor lead vocal
Gretchen Parlato additional vocals

andymilne.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4660 (2014)