“The Mage” is Greg Foat’s 9th album. Those familiar with his music won’t find anything too surprising here, his compositions and arrangements showcasing now familiar downtempo folkscapes and free jazz, with notes of hip-hop and soul flowing comfortably into the analogue mix. Foat has that rare gift of bringing together musicians from different generations and musical backgrounds and arranging them and their talents into sounds that can be beautiful and uplifting. Introspective and retrospective with an eye on the future one might even say. Having enjoyed much of his music in recent years, especially the wonderful “The Dancers at the edge of time”, it was with keen anticipation when I first clicked play on this album.
And now I pause. For reflection. For thought. Am I missing something? I don’t think so. As I listen to “The Mage” I can’t help feel the composer has lost his way a little. The trademark sound is there, the excellent collection of musicians is there, in fact, all the ingredients that would normally make for an enlightening Greg Foat experience are there, but it’s just not doing it for me. The compositions just seem to lack something. Having thought about this for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a few reasons for this…
No.1: Despite the fact that on each track I’m immediately pulled in to the gorgeous sound and feel of the music, after a minute or so of each tune it just gets a bit boring to be honest. The phrase ‘style over substance’ springs to mind.
No.2: There’s a lot of sax on the album. That should potentially be a good thing, right? Trouble is, some of the sax playing just seems to miss the mark for me. It’s like Kamasi Washington’s less gifted twin brother has infiltrated the band. He might know in his head what he’s trying to achieve, but in reality, it just doesn’t sound right.
No.3: Timelessness. Whereas on other albums I would happily shout to all who would listen that this guy Greg Foat has the magic touch and prophetic understanding of a Mage, creating timeless music to die for, this time around he seems to have replaced that vitality and intuitive elemental grace with some kind of pale imitation of the Mage.
That all sounds a bit harsh I know. And I don’t want it to be… if I was listening to Greg Foat for the first time my thought process could well be more easy going and less critical I suppose. So it is in fact very important to say that it’s most definitely not all bad by any means. In fact, it’s not bad at all, it’s still rather good in many ways. I still love certain elements of this album, and it’s plain to hear the touches of genius one might have been expecting… but it’s fleeting glimpses only for me. It’s good, but it’s not great. And maybe I’m just in the wrong mood or something, and it is, of course, wrong to expect brilliance on a consistent basis, but for me, it’s just a little bit disappointing.
Considering the treasures revealed when listening to several other Greg Foat, and Hampshire and Foat albums, this one is little like discovering a rare oyster, only to find when the oyster is opened, that the pearl is missing.