Stuart McCallum / Mike Walker ‘The Space Between’ (Edition) 3/5

An integral part of the vibrant and ever-changing Manchester jazz scene, guitarists Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker, are, perhaps, best known for their collaborative work with others. In the case of the former, McCallum has recorded regularly as part of the Cinematic Orchestra while pursuing a solo career. Walker is a founder member and integral part of the Impossible Gentleman alongside Gwilym Simcock and some of the hottest American jazz musicians.
This second album by the pair follows on from the well received 2014 offering, ‘Beholden’, also on Edition. If one had to characterise the new project, then it would be laid back guitar playing with a strong emphasis on the musicality. Both are open-minded in attitude and favour an approach that soaks up diverse influences from virtuoso guitarists of the calibre of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell to country-folk and folk-blues artists such as Jerry Douglas and Kelly Joe Phelps. The influence of the latter is heard on, ‘And Finally’, which in reality incorporates the theme to Beethoven’s, ‘Ode to Joy’. The classical theme is pursued with inventive purpose on a radical reading of Debussy’s ‘String Quartet’, the third movement to be precise. Even though a string quartet operates elsewhere on the album, McCallum has opted instead for a treatment devoid of strings altogether and this works a treat. Country-folk hues come to the fore on, ‘Yewfield’, which might just be a contender for the most lyrical piece while Walker’s impeccable blues credentials are showcased on the speeded up jazz-rock tinged, ‘Sky Dinner’. In contrast with the previous recording, the new album features fewer compositions, but of greater depth. If there was one reservation to make, then it would be that as a whole the album would be enhanced by more uptempo numbers and has a tendency to drift into comfort territory, though never into smooth jazz terrain. That said, the musicianship is commendable and the addition of a string quartet on four numbers helps embellish the sound, particularly on the excellent, ‘Moment’.

Tim Stenhouse