Benjamin Croft ‘Far and Distant Things’ LP/CD (Ubuntu Music) 4/5

Far and Distant Things is the second album from keyboard player and composer Benjamin Croft, it follows his 2019 debut 10 Reasons to… which saw him pay homage to some of his cultural heroes from cinema and jazz fusion. This album builds on what he achieved on that first outing and similarly pulls together a cornucopia of influences. The promo video for the title track references some of these, 1950s sci-fi, Space Ghost, Dr Who, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and even the landscapes of the go-to artist for prog-rock album covers, Roger Dean. Croft has got himself an all-star lineup for this record. He invited his favourite UK musicians to join him but as the project developed, evolved and like everything else was interrupted by Covid he decided to send out messages to some lifelong figures of inspiration: Randy Brecker, Frank Gambale, Chad Wackerman, Allen Vizzutti and Carter Arrington who all said yes! Simple really.

The title track ‘Far And Distant Things’ is one of the most distinctive tunes on the album, Frank Gambale of Chick Corea Elektric Band fame leads the way with a powerfully accurate guitar that propels everything forward with vital energy and precision. It recalls the cosmic drive of the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Billy Cobham of the mid-70s as well as Steely Dan, there’s even a whiff of Toto about it. On the second and third listen it’s possible to cast all these echoes aside and just enjoy the stunning virtuosity of this very satisfying earworm. Another standout track follows, ‘Brock’ which features the amazing flute and piccolo playing of Gareth Lockrane, the lightness and fluidity of it allows the song to bounce along then fly while another of Croft’s regular musical companions, bassist Flo Moore adds a touch of Jaco inspired fusion. ‘S.A.D (Spatial Awareness Disease)’, surely an alternative name for Covid, offers a stylistic change and brings in the trumpet of Allen Vizzutti. He’s performed on multiple film soundtracks, Back to the Future, Star Trek and Poltergeist to name a few. Shimmering keyboard textures are countered with a doom-laden riff before the textures shift once and the trumpet takes on a sheen reminiscent of Art Farmer. The odd track out is ‘Thank You, That’s What I Wanted To Know…’ Croft takes his foot off the pedal for a more contemplative piece, multiple keyboard layers and piano are interspersed by Andy Davies on trumpet. Later Chad Wackerman drums on the briefly intense trio piece ‘St Gandalf’s, it’s definitely a futuristic blast. The album bows out with ‘The Cashectomy’ and the last of five out of eleven tracks that feature guitar. This time it’s Carter Arrington who provides the virtuosity with soloing that recalls Larry Carlton’s 70s sound. Fortunately, the pace is eased for this finale, I needed to come down gently after these frenetic but exhilarating 56 minutes.

This album is a must-listen for anyone who has either a passion for 70s fusion or a penchant for Dr Who or ideally even both.

James Read