The Greg Foat Group ‘The Dancers at The Edge of Time’ LP/CD (Jazzman) 5/5

greg-foat-groupGreg Foat’s follow up to the highly acclaimed “Girl and Robot with Flowers” and the recent live outing “Live at The Playboy Club, London” is a stunning, evocative album of analogue loveliness. During the summer of 2014, a couple of tons of vintage studio gear were bundled into an ancient church in the village of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. The centuries old church organ became the centre piece and the resulting sound is a hauntingly sublime album that makes wonderful use of the church’s ambience and natural acoustics. “The Dancers at the End of Time” features the group’s regular musicians with Float playing grand piano and church organ, Rob Mach tenor and baritone saxophones, Trevor Walker trumpet and flugelhorn, Phil Achille on both double and electric bass and Tony Coote on drums, along with string quartet, woodwinds, friends and guesting local musicians. Pianist/composer/arranger Foat has pulled all of these elements together magnificently to create a session fuelled with stirring emotion, laid-back grooves and beguiling arrangements. His fellow band members and guests all rise to the task, with some stunning individual performances all adding to the mood and overall atmosphere. At times reminiscent of the jazzier, coolest tunes heard on Zero 7’s excellent “Simple Things”, or a wonderful “Saucerful of Secrets” late 60’s/ early 70’s era Pink Floyd, there is an organic warmth to the music heard here as it sinks deep into the heart and soul, cleansing, healing and washing away our sins. Recorded in the church direct onto 1″ tape, you feel you can almost share every breath of the musicians involved, imagining what it must have been like to have been there, living, breathing, the analogue recording succeeding in making the listener feel a part of its togetherness.

It is, fittingly, the organ that leads us into the album. The opener, and title track, begins with a chordal organ intro and winds its way into a drum and bass groove with Rob Mach’s earthy sax providing the depth of emotion that many would long for. The strings provide lush, thoughtful accompaniment. A warm acoustic guitar draws us into “Door Into Summer”, a beautifully calm and peaceful track, lifted by the gorgeous harmonies provided on sax and trumpet. This sounds so effortless it’s easy to just lie back and get swept away with it all. “The Hunt”, rich with its Donald Byrd-like deep groove, delivers one of the album’s freer, vivacious sax solos, swimming in reverb. “Hygiea” is a gentle piece that slowly builds on its guitar and piano intro, with Simon Spanner’s flute weaving its magic over the naturally integrated string section. As with all of the recording, Foat’s piano playing is intelligent and thoughtful, not just adding colour and texture, but highlighting what a great pianist he is. There’s a divine 50’s/60’s Blue Note feel to “The Dancer’s Waltz”, which leads into a wah wah / phase treated bass intro on “The Eyes of Horus”. Once again the arrangements for sax and trumpet are integral to the sound, with Tony Coote’s drumming the bedrock for the fine piano and sax soloing. With Mach’s sax tone and feel once again taking things into another dimension, Trevor Walker’s trumpet solo lifts the tune even higher. “Riff for Raff” sounds like an old Jethro Tull tune, electric guitar and bass combining to provide its heartbeat, with jazz riffs aplenty diving in and out from flugelhorn, sax and a blues-swamped piano. “Love Theme” is one of the many standout tracks on the album. A warm valve/reverb filled guitar is joined by laid-back Nick Mason / Roger Waters style drums and bass, with flute and piano creating the kind of cool vibe that makes it impossible not to just sigh with pleasure. The subtle arrangements are beautiful, the band leader obviously has a gift for producing musical landscapes that allow the listener to swim in its stream of cosmic nonchalance. The 14 minute long opus “Rocken End” features “beach ambience”, provided by Ben Dabell. The Aboriginal-sounding opening soon fades into the track’s key destination… a beach. Make of this what you will (and there will no doubt be many differing opinions), but I look upon it as a meditation of sound. Limitless, celestial and invigorating. Or perhaps it simply symbolises the end of the 3 day session of recording that provided the gifts of music heard throughout this album. As the gear, amps, cables and instruments are packed away, one could liken this to the dying embers of a sun-kissed day on the beach, the red sun sinking over the ocean waves and a slow, crackling beach wood fire gradually burning out, leaving behind its charcoal embers, filtered through esoteric grains of sand.

“The Dancers at the Edge of Time” is another excellent release from the impressive Jazzman Records and looks well set to become one of my albums of the year.

Mike Gates

Quickly establishing themselves as a name to be reckoned with, especially on the live circuit (the ‘Live at the Playboy Club CD from 2014 being an ideal place to hear the band in performance), the Greg Foat group return with a typically gritty offering that extends their already eclectic repertoire to incorporate new, exciting elements such as classical strings and African percussion. recorded at St. Catherine’s church in the isle of Wight, the recording sound had has a somewhat echoey feel to it and that works extremely well with the overall band sound.

Atmospheric electric keyboards predominate on ‘Riff for Raff’ which has a distinctively 1970s feel and leader Foat doubles up on acoustic piano which makes for a lovely layered effect, and the kind of mystical sound that Lonnie Liston Smith conjured up back in the day. In stark contrast with the bubbly opener, the somewhat reposing vibes of ‘The door into summer’ hints at early prog rock, yet has a classical quotient in the use of flute and strings, on top of which Foat adds minimalist piano. The number builds up into a brooding climax and in tone recalls Miles Davis from his ‘Bitches Brew’ era. Collective horns that are a band trademark enter after a double bass intro on ‘Hygera’ that is resolutely modern in approach and the overall modal atmosphere indicates an interest in the music of both McCoy Tyner from his larger ensemble recordings as well as those of Herbie Hancock from acoustic and electronic periods.

In an altogether freer vein, the title track uses dub-soaked horns to begin with, but then veers off with a baritone saxophone solo from Rob Mack. Various guest musicians help to embellish the usual band sound.

If one had to make any kind of comparison with a US group, then in outlook at least, it might be Medeski, Martin and Wood, though with the major difference of regular horns. Greg Foat Group similarly call upon disparate influences outside the regular world of jazz and that includes a healthy does of dub-soaked reggae and now the supplementary classical and African influences. The Greg Foat group stand out for their individual approach and with some much needed radio support, they are likely to find an attentive and supportive audience.

Tim Stenhouse