New albums are piling up thick and fast, so I better start sharing them with y’all.
And here’s a thought: if you’re a Spotify listener (or that of other digital platforms), I’d suggest dialling up the album du jour to accompany your reading experience. I’m going to be doing this for most of December.
Firstly a quick single.
Sean Bodley, guitarist extraordinaire, has dropped a new song, the rather lovely Avalon - a guitar instrumental that starts sweet and acoustic before exciting electric guitar ensues, adding drama to enhance the very melodic piece. Great work, and now online everywhere.
Also online, and only online, reflecting today’s unsettling move away from physical media, is Woven Not Stranded, a well-titled new album from Liam Ryan, the last part of his M2M (Mississippi to Mauao) trilogy of original electro-jazz.
There’s been a gap before this final instalment. The second album, Pacific Riviera, arrived just over a decade ago, closely following the opener, Mississippi To Mauao.
And I must say, this is about as good an album as I’ve heard from the Bay Of Plenty.
Liam, if you're not familiar with him, is a keyboard player and occasional singer. Back in the 1980s he was part of The Narcs; a decade or so later he had a band called Torch Songs, which played many a jazz festival and suchlike events.
He also plays with Midge Marsden and is a keyboard player Rodger Fox calls to back overseas artists. And more, much more of course – Liam is 70 now, and has been at it for half-a-century, so he’s done stuff...
Woven Not Stranded is largely a collection of melodic instrumental grooves with fantastic soloing and the occasional vocal. It covers expansive musical territory, and from a technical perspective sounds nothing less than sensational: crisp, wide, warm, beautifully balanced and three-dimensional in its soundscapes.
Things start in relatively unassuming fashion with Cosmic Lounge, an easy-listening sax-led piece, after which a Spanish guitar kicks into Afrodisiac and we’re definitely in world music territory, with backwards sounds and rhythmic flamenco flourishes. There’s a driving melodic orchestral string pattern along with vocal chanting and it’s very groovy indeed. There’s a high level of attention to detail here: everything fits and flows and every space seems proportionate and considered.
There are two tracks featuring Waihī singer Sarah Spicer, both remixes of previous singles. Get Jive is fun club groove, a well-constructed funk tune exhorting everyone to dance, with a great horn section. Then, on Royal Blues, Sarah really gets stuck in and shows what an impressive blues singer she is. Approaching this sort of music, very slow and in the grand style of 30s big band blues, you need to have real character and Sarah delivers in spades.
There’s a change of direction with Waltz For Amanda (presumably a song for Liam’s wife: everyone should be lucky enough to have their name attached to such beautiful music), which heads into the wide open prairies of Aaron Copland Americana and features drop dead gorgeous chromatic harmonica from Haggis MacGuinness.
I must mention some - because of space only some - of the musicians, all of whom provide stellar contributions: Guitarists Nick Granville, Dean Hetherington, Chet O’Connell and Regan Perry, English bassist Peter Stroud (ex-Peter Green), Rodger Fox on trombone and drummer Steve Garden.
There are also two takes on Soul Refrain, another remarkably funky horny tune. The instrumental version has a harp solo from Midge Marsden and a fantastic trumpet outing from Mike Booth, while the “Mudshark Monday Mix” reaches back to days of yore, when many a musician ended up living in Raglan and the regular Monday night gigs there became legend.
It’s one of many highpoints on the album, conjuring up the smoky music-soaked nights with a poem of Liam’s voiced by Malaysian Amir Yussof, sitting somewhere sonically between Robbie Robertson and Alabama 3.
It’s a cathartic finish to an album that will make a perfect summer backdrop, and contains music of such quality that it will probably end up on continual repeat. Damn fine work all round – stunning stuff.