Walkley-award winning reviewer John Shand spins albums from the Christopher Young Quartet, Gregory Porter, Peter Knight, Sensaround, Casey Golden Trio, and Joanna Wallfisch.
CHRISTOPHER YOUNG QUARTET Atmospheros
What a sound! If a boa constrictor could sing it might sound something like Christopher Young’s bass clarinet. Often this instrument is moody or demur, but in Young’s mouth—and on this reverbladen recording—it becomes monstrous, boasting an urgency that continually blisters the music’s surface. Young also plays clarinet, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone and flute, achieving a pressing, keening sound on them all, so the music is routinely emotionally charged. Just as important to his conception is a surrounding starkness, whereby bassist Nick Haywood, drummer Ted Vining and acoustic guitarist Tom Fryer leave abundant space for Young’s dramatic statements to leap from the speakers with extraordinary presence (as do their own instruments when they are featured). My only quibble with an outstanding album is Haywood’s bass being rather low in the mix.
PETER KNIGHT Way Out West
Peter Knight has shaken up the personnel and instrumentation of his Way Out West project, while retaining its essential East-West dialogue. Nine Years Later begins as a post-apocalyptic soundscape sparsely decorated by Satsuki Odamura’s thrumming bass koto. Eventually a simple horn line softens the mood, beckoning a solo from Knight’s lonely trumpet, behind which the band awakens from its slumber. By contrast Anthony Blaise has a furious opening, before settling into a twilight world where an Afro groove can loom out of the atmospherics, and in turn be swallowed by a burning tenor solo from Paul Williamson. This cycle of alternating groove and atmospherics lends the album an oneiric quality, emphasised by Lucas Michailidis’s slide guitar, while Howard Cairns (bass), Ray Pereira (percussion) and Rajiv Jayaweera (drums) maintain their distinctive lilt.
CASEY GOLDEN TRIO Miniature
Easily the Casey Golden Trio’s most ambitious work to date, this is also its best. Previously a preoccupation with the precision of outline has won out over deeper musical concerns. With Miniature (a 24-minute suite) pianist Golden’s established delight in crispness, cleverness and precision is augmented by a soaring imagination. The suite’s series of motifs are milked for all they are worth, rather like making a series of drawings of a model from different angles. Where Golden, bassist Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues might have once accepted the work at the drawing stage, now they rapturously fill in the sketches. Improvising takes something of a back seat to the composed material, but the writing is strong enough to justify this, and it ensures the solos are apt and pithy.
GREGORY PORTER Take Me To The Alley
Originally spawned by a love of jazz, Gregory Porter’s singing and songwriting now contain such a strong r&b strain that Marvin Gaye seems as much a precursor as Nat King Cole. The lavishly romantic streak in both his singing and his songs could occasionally tip over into excess were it not supported by equal measures of conviction and warmth of heart. The latter quality is brimful on the title track, which gently evokes the beauty of compassion without becoming overtly religious. Much of the material tends to be mildly funky, with sophisticated arrangements and telling solos. It lays to rest any doubts that Porter might end up undermining the magnificence and munificence of his voice with second-rate songs, even if he mostly opts to contain the startling power at his disposal.
Since its last opus Sensaround’s sounds have thickened from a mist into the sort of fog in which your first awareness of the proximity of another creature is a collision.
The wonder of Alister Spence and Shoeb Ahmad’s use of electronics, Fender Rhodes and percussion is that they generate this pea-souper without making the music dense. So Raymond McDonald’s alto or soprano saxophone never has to fight for aural space: it can materialise and dematerialise like a character in a dream, and when it does appear it may not even occupy a foreground that is in constant, eddying flux. The playing is muted without the music becoming anodyne. In fact were you alone in the wee hours with an axe-murderer on the loose it might confirm your most unspeakable fears.
JOANNA WALLFISCH Garden In My Mind
Some flowers are at their most beautiful just before they fully bloom. Joanna Wallfisch’s singing is like that, suggesting restraint, as if her throat and heart are not fully opened. Implicit is a delicacy, a purity and even a fragile sense of innocence. Setting Wallfisch apart is that her voice’s guilelessness is used to convey her knowing lyrics. Her words tell of a world in which, love, hurt and loss occur, and yet somehow they seem at one remove, like an amazed Alice telling us about the unlikely events behind the looking glass. Compounding the elegiac mood is the use of a string quartet in addition to the superb piano of Dan Tepfer. Wallfisch can also deploy a keen wit, and the sonic palette is expanded by her naive ukulele and Tepfer’s melodica. # John Shand