Matthew Tavares & Leland Whitty ‘Visions’ 2LP (Mr Bongo) 5/5

Sensational. I looked up the meaning of the word and according to the Oxford English Dictionary it describes something sensational as being ‘very good indeed, very impressive or attractive’. Well, that’s a very typically understated English description if ever I heard one. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Sense-ational: a startling barrage of the senses; inspirational, gorgeous, stunning, enchanting, surprising, magnificent’. So for the purpose of this review, I’ll go with my version.

Ok, so you might think I’m sad, but this album is the best thing that’s happened to my ears in a long time. But that’s not all. My heart is alive with the passion it brings. My soul is infected with its deeply creative beauty. My mind is running wild, fuelled with refreshed belief. And my life is enriched. Oh yes. I’ve found my pot of musical gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a happy man.

Double vinyl, gatefold sleeve, inventively astounding music. Simply put, I can give you 11 reasons to go and listen to this album right now. 3 tracks across 3 sides of vinyl plus 2 on the 4th side equals 11. Each track a killer tune, the sum of its parts equaling much more than a whole. It’s spirited, it’s exciting, it’s moving and it’s beguiling – all in a way that sparks an exuberant and exhilarated cry of “YES!”

I have to confess, prior to hearing this album, I hadn’t heard of Matthew Tavares and Leland Whitty. On further investigation, it would appear they have been making some mighty fine music for many years now, mostly as two parts of the four-piece outfit Badbadnotgood. This album is perhaps a slight turn in the road for them, jazzier for sure, but certainly no u-turn. Like all great artists, no matter what music they write, record and perform, they retain their own key element of identity.

On “Visions” guitarist/pianist Tavares and saxophonist/flautist Whitty have collaborated in a way that is both intuitive and masterful, creating mesmerising soundscapes that traverse the realms of contemporary jazz, impressionist classical, post-folk-rock and ambient electronica. The key thing though is how it all just sounds so organic, so natural. The album was almost entirely performed and recorded in one take, during an intense recording session. The record is a partly composed, partly improvised suite of free-flowing music that is varied in content, yet glued together with one ‘vision’ that allows the music to glide effortlessly from one track to another. But it’s not just the duo who impress. Bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and drummer Matthew Chalmers add incredible depth and weight to the session, their contributions being way more than just a rhythmic bedrock. Their collaborative approach and imaginative performances help make this album what it is; an exhilarating experience for the listener, from a quartet of inspired musicians.

This emotive roller-coaster sets off with the intensely dramatic “Through The Looking Glass”, acoustic guitars, impressionistic vocals, sax, bass and drums all converging headlong into its tense, high octane atmosphere. The piano-led track “Woah” is both audacious and exhilarating. In a jazz context its pure, unadulterated energy is bold and bright, a spellbinding quartet piece. The reflective, contemplative “Blue” has Latin blood running through its veins, Tavares’ guitar meeting Whitty’s sax in combined melody and distinctive mood, lush strings adding to the overall chilled-out ambience. “Symbols of Transformation” is a beautiful journey, gorgeously crafted through melody, tone, texture and colour. As with much of this album, there are moments of clarity in this music that are absurdly rewarding. Whitty turns to the flute for the exquisite “Visions of You”. Combined with Tavares’ piano this really is just so beautiful. It’s like a spiritual awakening as the track rises and falls, eventually transcending into its own meditative state of nirvana. The short yet compellingly graceful “Eyes” is followed by the chant-like omnipresence of “Awakenings”, and the almost neo-classical leanings of the fervent “Heart of the Moon”. The musical storytelling continues with the opulent simplicity of the mesmerising “Black Magic”, rhythmic acoustic guitar balanced perfectly with the sax, with luscious chord changes and a gorgeous melody that will stay with you long after listening. “Symbols of Transformation 2” is just as startling as part 1, this time piano, sax, drums and bass all overflowing with spontaneous freedom of expression. The closing piece “Living Water Assembly” is awash with a living, suffering, enduring melancholia that delves into the depths of humanity before rising up undefeated, beyond skin and bone, with cosmic all-seeing energy.

Nothing short of sensational, this is music that truly inspires. It lives in its own time and space. It screams with passion. It bleeds with emotion. It burns with its own swelling integrity. Its depth and beauty resonate on and on and on. Like soul food, its delicious flavours touch the palate with mouth-watering sensations, leaving me fulfilled with an incandescent sense of pleasure and contentment.

Mike Gates