Emanative ‘The Light Years of The Darkness’ (Steve Reid Foundation/Brownswood Recordings) 5/5 & 4/5

emanativeEmanative’s latest release is an incredible, full-on, world beats meets jazz collaboration with some of the finest musicians on the scene at the moment, performing a collection of what amounts to nothing less than some of the very best spiritual jazz ever composed. This whole double album was conceived from the outset as a way to raise both money and awareness for Gilles Peterson’s Steve Reid Foundation. The Foundation commemorates the life and legacy of Steve Reid and aims to help people working in music who are in crisis, especially those suffering from illness. As Gilles Peterson explains, “In 2009, Steve was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it was during one of my visits to New York that I became aware of the extent of his suffering. I was horrified by the conditions he was living in during his last days.” He continues, “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Steve Reid’s life than to start a charity to help other musicians in his name.” The Foundation provides grants to non-profit organisations that help people working in music.
Orchestrated by Nick Woodmansey aka Emanative, but not without the generosity, help and contribution of every musician and collaborator involved, “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a limited edition release of 500 2xLP on 180gsm heavyweight vinyl. Released on Brownswood Records, Gilles Peterson adds; “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emanative’s album as our first release for the Steve Reid Foundation. In keeping with Steve’s open-ended approach and his musical history, Nick Woodmansey has delivered a knock out jazz and beyond album.” And he isn’t wrong there. Featuring, among many others, the talents of Tamar Osborn aka Collocotor, Jessica Lauren, The Pyramids, Finn Peters, Earl Zinger, Idris Ackamore, and Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, this is a hypnotic, organic, cosmic body of work. It is a celebration, as Gilles Peterson puts it, of “the wealth and depth of the art of black musicians, magicians who have given us so much; as well as a joining of forces with an emergence of new and present time talent to co-create new versions of music of this era.”

The album opens with a serene, dreamy, laid-back take on Alice Coltrane’s “Om Supreme”. This acts as a fine introduction and leads the listener gently into the mind-bendingly awesome “Hum Allah”. Written by Pharoah Sanders, this is undoubtedly one of the many highlights of the album, with its wonderful out-there saxophony and meditative, harmonious vocals cutting through the cyclical nature of the keys and drums. Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s “Makondi” is a percussive masterclass in rhythm with its seductive synchronicity and timeless simplicity. An ebullient melody ensues on Joe Henderson’s “Fire”, summoning the light from the dark with its sparkling arrangement. As the flames die down and the smoke rises, we find ourselves way out in orbit for the melancholic beauty of Sun Ra’s cosmic poem of love; “Love in Outer Space”; a chant and solo delivered to us by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, veteran member of The Sun Ra Arkestra. The double vinyl includes two very different versions of this, both from the same session. Arthur Blythe’s “As of Yet” rumbles, tumbles and grumbles its angry tones with expressive fortitude and a steadfast authority. Now bring on the horns, two drummers, two percussionists and a flute flight of fancy for Sun Ra’s celestial “Rocket Number Nine”. Neneh Cherry’s band, Rocketnumbernine, are joined by the brothers of United Vibrations who supply Sun Ra’s chant, vocals and message on this blast through the outer regions of space and time. This decadent and diverse album closes with Albert Ayler’s signature piece “Music is the Healing Force of The Universe”. And so it ever was, and so it should always be. A spiritual sun sets on one of the finest musical journeys to have been released this year. “The Light Years of The Darkness” is a gift, a joy to behold and cherish. The production and musicianship heard throughout this recording is jaw-dropping. It’s clever, it’s natural and ultimately it’s incredibly inspiring. May your smile Emanate from the radiance of its beauty.

Mike Gates Rating 5/5

Nick Woodmansey has led his Emanative cohort, and an array of esteemed collaborators, to produce ‘The Light Years of the Darkness’ for the Steve Reid Foundation’s first full release. The album’s journey begins with Captain Nick Woodmansey and Empress of the Ivories, Jessica Lauren, ushering this sublime work in with a version of Alice Coltrane’s earthly meditation ‘Om Supreme’. Jessica Lauren on Rhodes exposes the soul artery driving the project at it simplest form. The healing warmth of this version contrasts with the abrasion that punctuates the original and like all of the versions on The Light Years Of The Darkness, is treated to Emanative’s wand casting alchemy over the players in the engine room.

Locked deep in the grooves of this double vinyl odyssey, is a body of work that pays homage to journeyman drummer, Steve Reid, and edifying masterpieces from the spiritual vanguard of firebrand jazz that includes; Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry.

Gilles Peterson has stated “he couldn’t be more thrilled to have Emanative’s ‘The Light Years Of The Darkness’ album [as the] first release for the Steve Reid Foundation. In Keeping with Steve’s open-ended approach and his musical history, Nick Woodmansey has pitched outside conventions and ground through stay in the rhythms. Quite how many is not something Steve dictated just that you should ‘stay in the rhythms’.”

The Light Years of the Darkness project has been driven by the cause, spirit and purpose of the Steve Reid Foundation (SRF) that was set-up following the drummer’s untimely death in 2010. The foundation is guided by a board of trustees that itself is a rare collection of innovative DJs, producers and musicians inspired by or, connected to Steve Reid; [the trustee’s include; Floating Points, Kieran Hebden, Theo Parrish, Gilles Peterson and Nick Woodmansey amongst others].

On from the sacred gateway cast by Jessica Lauren’s ‘Om Supreme’, the vibe of The Light Years Of The Darkness intensifies, as the collaborations become a cluster of orbiting players together pushing outwards as one dense and at times indistinguishable mass. A vocabulary forms around the theme’s of the original works, leant into with the help of original cast members. The grace of Ahmed Abdullah on ‘Love in Outer Space’, a member of Sun Ra’s Arkestra and purveyor of the source material is the segue that join the worlds locked into the Unctuous grooves.

Long time friend and collaborator of Steve Reid, Kieran Hebden AKA Four Tet brings an auspicious storm with Makondi as it is a blurring of the Don Cherry original by some ‘Sanzaesque’ finger piano and hypnotic drums.

The immensity of Pharoah Sanders’ Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah brings the release to a spiritual apex before heading into the unknown. A pair of double basses, Jessica Lauren in command of the Grand Piano and The Pyramids combine to reach beyond conventional superlatives.

Tamar Osborn’s arrangement of Joe Henderson’s Fire is impeccably conducted for her Collocutor ensemble to plunge deep alongside Emanative’s up-tempo stick work and Phillip Harper summon the heat with a deluge of percussion. Finn Peters weaves around the space coloured by Collocutor’s horn section along with Emanative’s, Ben Hadwen on Saxophone.

As the number of Emanative personnel grows so do the length of the versions. The pea soup of sonic fog precipitates Emanative’s vocabulary of space jazz. The ensembles journey from spiritual jazz to four-to-the-floor bangers.

Reid’s distinctive cymbals, echo squarely from their steely rivets, (and are likely the ones he dropped in the Atlantic when disembarking from a cargo ship 40 years ago on his pilgrimage across West Africa exploring the region’s rhythms) feature as part of Tom Page’s kit (Rocketnumbernine’s drummer), and United Vibrations come together for an intense rendition of Sun Ra’s Rocket Number Nine.

On the version of ‘Music is the healing force of the Universe’ Earl Zinger and Valerie Ettiene call and respond across the ether with plays on Albert Ayler’s lyricism. Pass through the door of earthly perception as Zinger, apparent here as an otherworldly Griot, instructs us to, “Let it come in”.

The Light Years Of The Darkness traverses glorious opposites, harmony is affronted by friction, complexity is awakened from simplicity, digital production bedded down with warm quilts of analogue textures, sacred against profane, and as Sun Ra eluded in his writings that inspired this albums title, ‘the light years [within] the darkness’.

Pete Buckenham Rating 4/5