The James L’Estraunge Orchestra ‘Eventual Reality’ LP/CD/DIG (BBE Music) 4/5

The James L’Estraunge Orchestra first came to my attention in the summer of 2017 with a limited 12” double sider which included ‘Closer’, of which a video was also released, and ‘Groovin’ You’, a modern remake of the Harvey Mason disco sample favourite from 1979. Prior to this I had no knowledge of the artist, but the project is the brainchild of musician and producer Ricky Reid from Edinburgh, who utilised an array of numerous musician friends to contribute to its recording, which apparently was completed ‘in a remote log cabin deep in the Scottish Highlands’. The release contains different track listings depending on which format you have, but the vinyl has eight tracks, with the digital and CD versions also including additional radio and instrumental versions of ‘Closer’, as well as the previously mentioned ‘Groovin’ You’ as a bonus track.

Aiming to identify one specific musical tag to the album is difficult, which is welcomed, but ‘Eventual Reality’ has strong jazz roots, with live drums, guitar, piano and keyboards, with additional string parts (probably via software), touches of synthesiser and vocals performed on three tracks. But it also contains more modern arrangement ideas and themes. For example, the single ‘Closer’ has an accessible epic quality with its very melodic structure and strong vocal hooks making it very radio friendly with vocal duties handled by Ricky and the wonderfully named Emmerald Anne Jade. And this strong sense of melody returns with ‘See You Tonight’, a downtempo jazz ballad of sorts with Ricky’s contemplative but hopeful lyrics meshing with the dreamy chords and textured arrangement. ‘We Rise’ with its filtered intro and engaging synth and string parts again uses vocals but only sporadically from the midpoint, which are subtly processed with digital delay and audio filtering effects.

All of the other tracks are full instruments with the title track ‘Eventual Reality’ being the most ‘produced’ track of the set, with its dynamic but fluid drum programming combined with extra live drums, string samples, light synths and sparse piano parts providing a somewhat drum & bass feel. This approach is used on numerous pieces and does suggest a nod towards late ‘90s, early 2000 era 4 Hero production qualities. ‘It’s Happened Before’ is another example of this, again, with its uptempo BPM and effective use of layered strings with piano, brass and touches of guitar also added. ‘The Call’, which is predominantly piano based except for some subtly but warm synth textures, was apparently written after a fatal local car accident and does remind one of soundtrack cues from Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, the team that have composed numerous contemporary soundtracks including the mesmerising ‘Gone Girl’ OST in 2014.

Stylistically, I wouldn’t place the album together with the current wave of young London-based jazz releases, or neither would I put the project in the same mould as BADBADNOTGOOD from Toronto, but possibly adjacent to these or maybe somewhere in between. ‘Eventual Reality’ is a very modern album although its roots are very much entrenched in jazz. But as The James L’Estraunge Orchestra is not technically a group, this can open the doors to future creative explorations not confined by parameters that a defined musical classification can sometimes impose.

Damian Wilkes