The band is: Phil Miller (from Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on guitar and synth guitar, Pete Lemer on keyboards, Fred Baker on bass, Mark Fletcher on drums, Simon Picard on saxophone, Simon Finch on trumpet and flugelhorn, Annie Whitehead on trombone, Didier Malherbe (from Gong) on saxophone, flute, doudouk and ocarina, Doug Boyle on guitar, Dave Stewart (from Egg, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on tuned percussion, Barbara Gaskin on vocals, and Richard Sinclair (from Caravan) on bass.
With a line-up of seasoned pros like the above, one must expect the music is going to be excruciatingly tight and slippery slick. It is.
The horns waft and sway with amiable emotion. Maintaining a very jazzy disposition, the horn section delivers tasty riffs with delightful expertise. Comfortable melodies are imbued with molten passion. The saxophones wail with cheerful melancholy. The trumpet warbles with earnest fervor.
Enchanting riffs spill from the guitar with glorious agility. Each note is meticulously placed to elevate the entire instrumental gestalt. And when the guitar gets the chance to elbow its way into the spotlight, the glory becomes ecstatic and amazing.
The keyboards provide delicate embellishment to the melodies with often dramatic sweeps. Nimble-fingered chords slide into wondrous melodies that serve to connect the other instruments’ riffs.
The percussion is skillful and knows exactly how to drive from a submerged vantage. Never too strong, never too elusive, the rhythms fit perfectly between the rest of the notes.
The basslines are intricate, fluid, and lend particular nectar to the tunes.
These compositions are dazzling and engaging. Their ability to immediately put the listener at ease is eminent. While steeped in Canterbury roots, this music is very straight-ahead jazz, merging old school traditions with modern delivery. The result is mesmerizing and rewarding, with wide appeal.
By Nic Jones
Maybe it’s not fair to refer to guitarist Phil Miller’s times as a member of British bands Delivery, Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North as that was all some decades ago. But the fact of the matter is that the often very straightforward nature of the music on this one loses out in comparison with those names. Whereas once the music was alive with quirks and all, the diffidence that could be mustered when playing in a time signature of say, 7/4, very little of that kind of thing seems to ruffle the surface of the polite fusion on offer here.
This is not however to suggest that the music doesn’t have its moments. The line of Miller’s “Press Find Enter” has a quality that embraces both light and shade, and trombonist Annie Whitehead‘s solo seems to tease that quality out with equal measures of both joy and trenchant wit.
The broken time of “5s & 7s” has a similar stamp to it and the enhancements of Barbara Gaskin‘s minimal wordless vocal contribution and alto sax played presumably by Didier Malherbe lift it out of the realm of the polite and make it memorable.
“Orinaca” also has an individual air about it, not least as a result of Malherbe’s work on ocarina. Keyboard player Pete Lemer‘s deft touch colors the line nicely and the result would fit nicely particularly within the Hatfields context.
Miller has always been a guitarist of distinction, and it’s thus sad to relate that there are times here when it’s like he’s absent from his own disc. On the Weather Report-like “Flashpoint,” bass player Fred Baker gets his turn in solo and underscores that comparison with a display of Pastorius-like dexterity. For all of Baker’s formidable technique the listener might just be left wondering what Miller would have made of the opportunity had he taken it himself.
On the lengthy “End Of The Line,” Miller does come out of the ensemble for one and it’s like the sun coming out on an otherwise cloudy day. All the hallmarks of his work are still in place—his idiosyncratic phrasing, his sense of economy, before the demands of a fusion idiom in which technical precision and ‘correct’ virtuosity are of overriding importance seem to regain the upper hand.
Overall, the old one about those who like this sort of thing really liking this sort of thing applies here.