Michael J Bolton ‘Earthrise’ LP/CD (Market Square) 3/5

The publicity accompanying this release describes the album as a “talent packed reimagining of NASA’S Apollo moon landing project”. I must say that Bolton is a new name to me and is clearly talented as a bass player, composer, producer and session bass player. The bassist was born in Plymouth in the 1960s and started on guitar and drums and switched to electric bass in 1979. This is his second release and his current focus with plans to take the music on the road at some point in the future. During a varied and extensive career to date, Bolton has worked with the likes of Jim Mullen, Bruce Adams, Mike Gorman, Mike Outram and Digby Fairweather to name just a few.

This album sees Bolton performing on bass, synthesisers, rhythm guitars and what he describes as ‘moon piano’. His fellow travellers on this mission include Mike Walker (guitars), Neil Yates (trumpet/flugelhorn) Tom Garland and Marc Russo (soprano saxophones) and Noelle Rollings (vocals) together with two additional keyboard players and a drummer.

The music combines composition with jazz improvisation. Bolton brings many styles and elements together to create a diverse and cinematic musical experience. Bolton says that “contemporary jazz, Latin fusion, funk, progressive rock and synthesised textures” come together “to take the listener on an incredible journey”.

The bassist describes his latest project as “a fusion of progressive music and jazz-rock with a heavy 70s influence”. There are seven tracks on the album which opens appropriately with ‘The Launch’. This is an atmospheric piece with drums to the fore and sets the tone for what is to come. ‘Trans Lunar Injection’ is next with soprano saxophone and some equally impressive synth work. ‘Arrow of Time’ shows a change of pace and is much more impressionistic and includes a fine feature for Neil Yates. ‘Deep Space’ is a short interlude which continues the more ambient soundscape with keyboard techniques. The title track is next and again shows Neil Yates to great effect together with more keyboard artistry and unison vocal lines. ‘The Eagle’ allows the leader to shine and we have more ethereal vocals and space-age guitar from Mike Walker. The final piece is ‘The Return’ which opens with impressionistic piano before the bassist gets another chance in the spotlight alongside unison trumpet and guitar. I believe it is Tim Garland who gets a nice feature too.

This album is clearly a labour of love for Bolton and whilst the compositions and playing are accomplished, I felt that there was something missing and I found it difficult to completely engage with the music. Nevertheless, this is clearly an album that will appeal to a wide market as it crosses so many musical boundaries. I’m not entirely sure what its appeal will be to dyed-in-the-wool jazz listeners. Having said this, however, I would be interested to hear the music played live and it may well be in this context that the music would be best enjoyed.

Alan Musson