Matt Gold ‘Imagined Sky’ LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 4/5

“Imagined Sky” is an engaging slice of post-rock / folk / blues / Americana from Chicago based guitarist and songwriter Matt Gold. It’s his first solo outing but it sounds more collaborative than that implies, with great contributions coming from bassists Matt Ulery and Brian Doherty, drummer Jeremy Cunningham and synth player Dan Pierson, along with some lovely cameos from vocalists Macie Stewart and Sara Serpa, and violinist Myra Hinrichs.

There’s an alluring kinetic energy to this recording, whether it be Gold’s electric guitar power-playing, his acoustic guitar and its whispered textures, the folk-tinged vocals blending perfectly with the abstracted Americana, or the bluesier elements that are a welcome delight. As Gold comments: “I’ve tried to stitch together the more improvisatory electric trio material with something more song-focused and concise, balancing these energies.”

‘Augusta Fairgrounds’ opens the album with the electric trio, a driving piece that reminds me of the great Brian Setzer with its rockabilly-tinged backbone. As with much of the album, the music evokes wide-open, turbulent landscapes, long-forgotten dreams drifting wistfully across the plains. The outstanding ‘Queen Anne’ is a far more folky affair featuring the stunning vocals of Macie Stewart… what a voice! I found myself hitting the repeat button on my player after being instantly hooked by this tune. “I think a lot about space in my writing,” says Gold, “whether it’s external, as in a physical space, or internal – the spaces of our imagination, our uncertainties, our own particular ways of seeing the world…this record leans into both interpretations.” Propelled by a trance-inducing drum pattern, ‘Crimes’ emerges with a sparse, desert landscape of guitar chords and synthesizer textures that build in energy and intensity, hinting at the sounds of a Morricone film score. The analogue sounding, tape manipulated solo acoustic guitar of ‘Between The Four Seas’ is followed by Gold’s vocal and acoustic guitar on the John Renbourn-esque ‘Truehearted’, which is embellished with some lovely strings. The trio piece ‘Dollarama,’ reminds me of a late 60’s Terje Rypdal, cool and bluesy, whilst ‘Always Starting Over,’ a wonderfully melodic piece, captures perfectly Gold’s style with lovely, slightly discordant acoustic guitar matched well by the rhythmic drums that give the tune an engrossing pulse. I love this and it’s definitely one of the most original tracks on the album. ‘Petrichor,’ written with and featuring Sara Serpa on vocals, finds Gold and Serpa in a duet as dreamlike synthesizer lines wash over the mix. ‘Bottom Of The Barrel’ leans into an earthy, familiar feeling, bursting with raucous, blues-tinged energy, rounding off the album in uplifting style.

“Imagined Sky” has a warm, feel-good atmosphere to it. It’s accessible, yet healthily unconstrained by genre and sure of its own identity, feeling less like a debut and more like a culmination of all the good things Matt Gold has taken on board along his journey to reach this point. With a refreshing vitality, I’d highly recommend it.

Mike Gates

mu:n ‘fabrics’ (QFTF) 3/5

Mu:n​ is another fresh collective from Switzerland’s ever so creative Jazz scene.
Mu:n’​s sound is airy and contemplative. They take time and patience to develop their songs. At times a little too much time, the overall album experience lacks diversity in its dramatic balance and misses its edge.
However, ​fabrics​ is an interesting music production! mu:n’s music is a dreamy, hazy soundscape. Their songs carry a feel of time and space, utterly hypnotizing and meditative – reminiscent of the works of Bill Frisell or Jacob Bro. Driving a jazz subgenre that could be described as modest, free complexity.
It will be interesting to hear where ​mu:n’s​ musical journey will take them. The young ensemble definitely holds the talent to stay in the mix. ​

Musicians: Djamal Moumène – Guitar, Composition, Tobias Pfister – Tenor Saxophone, Vito Cadonau – Bass, Noah Weber – Drums

SG

Soft Power ‘Brink Of Extinction’ LP (RR GEMS) 5/5

Helsinki based sextet Soft Power, release their second long-player, Brink Of Extinction. Since their self-released debut, “In a Brown Study”, drummer Mikael Jurmu has augmented the line up of Antti Vauhkonen (alto saxophonist/flautist), Staffan Södergård (Rhodes piano), Otto Kyrklund (guitar), Iiri Tulkki (bass) and Lauri Vertanen (tenor sax). This coincides with an evolution to a jazzier and groovier sound hinted at on the more guitar-based psych of their first.

“Brink Of Extinction” is a concept album based on the human threat to the biodiversity of our planet. Indeed, the group pic on the sleeve sees the band in silhouette, teetering on a precipice. It’s heavy stuff! But there’s a positivity in the message and music mirroring much of the recent activism of the climate movement.

The sparse, tentative piano chords of “Awakening” segues into “Brink Of Extinction”, a track built on a groovy rhythm punctuated by twangy guitar and Fender Rhodes trills with swoops of melody from the twin saxes. It succumbs to a dreamy backdrop for the recital of a poem, in Finnish, by Juhana Henrik Harju before a slight return with flute and electric piano solos. This is reminiscent of David Axelrod with its lush but quirky arrangement and cinematic feel. The laid-back mellowness of “Orange Red Yellow” is buoyant on a smooth and consistent bass line followed by the flute and saxophone wash and drips with late 1960s melancholy. All this groove-laden goodness is interrupted by the jerky jazz dance of “The Water Rooms” which breaks into joyous scat-guitar.

The movie soundtrack feel continues on the moody “New Beginning” where piano and horns weave around the walking bassline until solo electric piano sings to the ambient sea waves. With a cheeky nod towards “Naima”, the swagger of the sax, flute, distorted guitar and Fender Rhodes in the epic, “Window Of Opportunity” switches a bustling jazz dance rhythm with improvisations from flute and guitar. The track breaks down to pensive electric piano melody lines which are slowly built on by synthesiser, saxophone and flute. This is a killer track that, for me, hits that often elusive sweet spot between jazz, rock and folk like late-era Traffic could. After its abrupt ending, there’s the brief brass fog of “Final Blow”.

Is this rock or jazz? Mikael Jurmu describes their music as rock with strong ingredients of jazz and free expression which I think this is fair enough. They have clearly identified the free form elements that both psychedelic rock and jazz share and delivered them with a performance that is subtle and organic. The movable sonic textures of the twin saxophones and flutes are beautiful and ethereal. The effect is emotional and exhilarating. I just can’t stop listening to it!

Kevin Ward

Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Angular Blues’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

For his fourth ECM album as leader, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel returns to the trio format, with Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The interplay between the three musicians is especially organic on this recording, helping imbue the trio with its own personal dynamic.

Whilst each of the groups Muthspiel has put together for his previous ECM outings has enjoyed a special rapport, most notably perhaps his previous session featuring pianist Brad Mehldau on “Where The River Goes”, there appears to be more of an intuitive musical conversation going on here which is, after all, what the best trios hope to achieve.

Scott Colley brings a fresh, earthy edge to Muthspiel’s compositions. His connectedness to both the guitar and the drums kind of holds everything together in a subtle, effortless way. But it is Brian Blade’s contribution that is possibly most striking. In a quiet, skillful way, he uses his experience wisely, knowing intuitively what to bring to the tunes themselves. Blade’s own innovative music with his Fellowship Band, alongside his own songwriting skills on the exquisite “Mama Rosa”, make him the perfect drummer to sit alongside Colley and Muthspiel.

Along with the guitarist’s characteristically melodic originals, the trio play a couple of Standards, as well as Muthspiel’s first ever bebop rhythm tune, and a single guitar only piece. The whole album sits together wonderfully well, with the first three tunes featuring Muthspiel on acoustic guitar, with the rest on electric. A hypnotic glow resonates throughout the entire recording, with a crystalline joy emanating from the music being made. Muthspiel’s guitar playing is both creative and subtle, yet punchy and adventurous when required.

From the gorgeously opulent opener “Wondering”, to the gentle and contemplative “Hüttengriffe”, from the engrossing “Kanon in 6/8” to the superlative “I’ll Remember April”, the trio effortlessly speak their own melodically warm and welcoming jazz language. Fluent and inventive, this is a wonderful trio recording that I’ll be returning to time and time again.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Rising Grace’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 4/5
Wolfgang Muthspiel ‘Driftwood’ CD (ECM) 3/5

Deborah Jordan ‘See In The Dark’ CD (Futuristica Music) 5/5

Deborah Jordan unveils her new album ‘See in the Dark’ continuing her long-running association with leading future soul label, Futuristica Music.

It can be seen as almost futile to attempt to surmise a career as expansive as Deborah Jordan’s but I’m still feeling compelled to scream about her incredible accomplishments – an artist with a near unparalleled ability to walk within disparate musical realms and genres like her timeless contribution as vocalist for Robert Mitchell’s Panacea or the innumerable collaborations she’s chalked up with artists including Atjazz (‘Let Go’), Unforscene (‘Unbroken’) and Soulpersona (‘Weightless’); her work as part of groups including Sun Circle, pairing Jordan with producer Simon S, Silhouette Brown with Kaidi Tatham and then there are her solo albums ‘The Light’ (2009) and ‘What You See’ (2011) all under the umbrella of Futuristica.

And Futuristica is very much a part of the story here as well – through a team of dedicated, immeasurably talented and unified producers, musicians and vocalists, Futuristica has released genre-defining projects – Simon S’ ‘Music 4 Alternative Souls’ (2018) warrants essential listening as do releases by the Jazz Chronicles and Georgie Sweet.

Deborah Jordan has always been a remarkable talent – her voice is able to capture a genuine, aching sincerity that completely validates her music over the staggering fifteen plus years she has been making music. ‘See in the Dark’ is a further testament to that fact – a great album that, in many ways, runs the gamut of sonic compositions that people have become accustomed to equating with her talents. With production from a dream team assembly of names including K15, Simon S, Tris Browne and Mecca 83, the album boasts varied musical soundscapes like the sweet R&B of ‘You Should Know’, the broken beat inspiration of ‘Stay With You’ and ‘Horizon’, and the harder-edged beats of ‘Machine’.

But there’s little chance of anything on this album resonating with listeners more than the project’s exquisite lead single, ‘I’ll See You Again’. Produced by Mark Rapson, ‘I’ll See You Again’ was written following the passing of Jordan’s mother but is destined to be a song that will be adopted by countless people the world over as a vessel for their own losses and heartbreak. It’s a song exemplary of every one of Jordan’s talents already discussed – a match-made-in-heaven of an awe-inspiring vocal paired with flawless production.

In many ways, ‘See in the Dark’ is the culmination of everything that came before it: an incredibly versatile release that sees Jordan, not only continue to straddle the various styles she’s developed her formidable reputation on but an album that has managed to fuse so many of these elements together into a stunning and cohesive project. As a result, Deborah Jordan has delivered, quite possibly, her magnum opus.

Imran Mirza