Rebecca Nash / Atlas ‘Peaceful King’ CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

In her first major recording as leader, keyboardist and composer Rebecca Nash’s debut release with Atlas covers a wide range of musical styles. Predominantly jazz, yes, but it is the intelligent and intuitive integration of rock, drum and bass, 70’s fusion, soul-jazz and electronica, alongside singer-songwriter influences, that makes this album stand out as something special.

There’s a beauty to this recording that goes beyond any pigeon-holes of musical styles. In the same way that artists such as Collocutor, Pat Metheny Group, Zero7, or Joni Mitchell manage to traverse musical styles with such grace and ease, “Peaceful King” is a delightfully engaging journey that well and truly showcases Nash’s talents and marks her out as one of freshest creative talents in the UK at this present time.

Nash grew up in Bristol, listening to the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack, but there’s also a strong Birmingham connection; as an educator with Birmingham Jazzlines, Birmingham Conservatoire, Cheltenham Festivals and the National Youth Collective. She is a major player in Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band, featuring heavily on Colman’s recent album “What We’re Made Of” which was released on the Birmingham label Stoney Lane Records. Nash also performs regularly as part of saxophonist/composer Chris Bowden’s band Unlikely Being. Singer Colman returns the compliment here, featuring on three tunes on this recording for Nash.

This album features Nash’s long-time associates Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Matt Fisher on drums, plus Thomas Seminar Ford on electric guitar and Chris Mapp on electric bass and electronics. Nash describes the album with collaboration at its heart. “Nick, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms – he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection. Tom and Chris perform together often and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love.”

As a collective, Nash’s band work wonderfully well together. They achieve a near-perfect balance between composition and improvisation, with each person bringing their own ideas and skilful playing to create a vibrant and invigorating landscape of sound. Right from the distinctive opening bars of the title track, it’s clear there’s something special happening here. You know when you listen to something new for the first time, and it grabs your attention straight away, with intrigue and excited anticipation… well this is a great example of that feeling. The adventure continues with the effervescent, free-flowing “Tumbleweed”. Gorgeous melodies crash head-on with cosmic, ambient sounds and fabulous soloing. “Hot Wired”, “Grace” and “Dreamer” all feature the intuitive vocals of Sara Colman, each track shining brightly with its own elegance. The incredibly powerful “Lockma”, featuring some of the album’s best soloing from both Nash and Ford, gives way to mellow auras of the luscious “Little Light”. Inspired by a turbulent boat trip to the western island “Inishbofin” this final track is a pulsating piece of pure musical brilliance, summing up everything that’s great about this recording.

As an album “Peaceful King” has it all. From Fisher’s inventive, powerhouse drumming and Mapp’s beguiling bass lines and electronics, through to Ford’s melodious guitar playing, Colman’s exquisite vocals, and Nash’s own penchant for blindingly beautiful chord structures, the resulting music is simply stunning. Undoubtedly one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year.

You can see Rebecca Nash /Atlas live on the following tour dates:
30th October – The Canteen, Bristol.
31st October – The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham.
20th November – The Sebright Arms, London.

Mike Gates