A good few years ago, I’m guessing mid 90s, I remember being totally enthralled by the folk/jazz crossover group Lammas. Headed up by saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Don Paterson and vocalist Christine Tobin, they made music that successfully blended together the two different genres with consummate ease, creating a hybrid genre all of their own. It’s only now, looking back, that it dawns on me how few and far between such acts actually are. Good ones anyway. And so we come to “Torus”, a new release from Scottish guitarist and composer James Lindsay. A little more rockier in nature than Lammas ever were, Lindsay also brings together the disparate elements of traditional folk music and contemporary jazz, adding a wealth of oomph along the way, creating a free-flowing intelligent and unquestionably joyful album.
Written over a period of two years and completed in lockdown, “Torus” takes a kaleidoscopic look at contemporary Scottish Folk, with the resulting music being intense and expansive, darkly atmospheric and yet ultimately uplifting. The album title reflects the cyclical interactions of humans with nature as the music traces revolving tensions between things ancient and modern, places wild and urban. “Torus” is an exploration of the flows which connect us to our world and a reminder that change is our only constant. Recorded at Glasgow’s GlowWorm recording studios with acclaimed producer Euan Burton and a group of Scotland’s finest cross-genre musicians, the album breathes in its vast array of musical influences and exhales a magical menagerie of enthralling melodies and expressive improvisation.
Nine original tunes, often deceptively complex in nature, weave their own merry way across this session. Lindsay has a habit of surprising the listener, whether it be through choice of instrumentation, changes of pace mid tune, or blazing a trail with an adventurous solo, there’s always something refreshingly inventive going on. Angus Lyon’s mesmerising accordion-playing leads the way on the delicious opener “Lateral Roots”. Sympathetic keys, guitars and sax all combine infectiously with drums and bass, setting the scene for a luscious guitar solo. The atmospheric “Observatory” is warm and comforting, with Jack Smedley’s fiddle providing the rousing melody that follows. “Electroreceptor” has that analogue sound that breathes new life from an old favourite instrument, and the slow-burner “Lewisian Complex” eventually catches fire with some extravagant guitar pyrotechnics. The more reflective tunes on the album have a lovely feel to them, “Cycles” being the prime example. A jazzier vibe is at the helm for “Skekler” and “The Smiddy” surely has to be used somewhere, somewhen, for a TV drama with its soaring filmic quality. “Jinibara” takes me by surprise, taking my breath away in the process, with Norman Wilmore’s gorgeous alto sax setting the scene for some delicate guitar and fiddle playing. The closing piece “Holon” uses a combination of interwoven bass and guitars to create an enticing soundscape for the rest of the band to work with.
The writing and performances throughout “Torus” are a joy to behold. For me though, it’s the instrumentation and wonderful arrangements that raise it up to something way above the sum of its parts. It’s one of those albums you could put on the stereo with anyone around, under any circumstances, and whoever you’re with will be distracted enough from your conversation to say “Sorry, who’s this? This music sounds great.”