Acoustic Alchemy - Aart 


I was lucky enough to hear Acoustic Alchemy play live in the UK earlier this year.  I was struck by how fresh the older material sounded but I was also very excited by the new (and still nameless) songs that they were introducing.  I began to look forward to the release of “Aart” that evening.As the liner notes explain, this is Acoustic Alchemy’s eleventh album.  It’s their second for Higher Octave and the second since the death of co-founder Nick Webb.
The liner notes also describe the band as having “a little more groove, a little more soul”.

I certainly agree with that.  There are new directions here and Greg Carmichael is a smart guy who deserves to keep all his old fans and make a whole lot more.

It’s hard not to be in a good mood as soon as you hear the building intro to Wish You Were Near.  The guitar lines are as clean and fluid as ever and we get some beautiful brass here.  UK smooth jazz fans may recognise the names of Snake Davis on sax and Fayyaz Virji on trombone.  These guys and the whole brass section sound sweet and this rhythm really gets the album off to a great start.

Aart Attack has almost a gospel feel and has some quiet moments, interspersed with some intense jamming – this must be great live, especially if they use that great organ sound.  The guitar is again centre stage – and very confident.

That confidence is so obvious on the funky, strutting Flamoco Loco.  This track is everything that Acoustic Alchemy have been in the past, with elegant flamenco licks, and everything which will make their future so rosy, with a great beat and a sense of humour which is infectious.  Played live, this song just rocks!  Every radio station worth its name should be giving this massive airplay! 

Tuff Puzzle is a mid-tempo groover driven by the tight bass of Frank Felix.  Miles Gilderdale lays down a lovely electric guitar solo on the track, surrounded by a swirl of strings that simultaneously sounds strange, but just right.  The trademark lead nylon-string guitar rings like a bell and that brass keeps you smiling.  This is a masterpiece of production without ever sounding manufactured. 

The haunting Passion Play is a truly classic Acoustic Alchemy number and somehow only acoustic bass would be right.  It is right, as are the background vocals.  This track is too short.  I hung onto those last piano notes… Lovely. 

Frank Felix co-wrote Senjo Wine and you can hear him on both bass and a very clean electric guitar here.  My sax hero Jeff Kashiwa is credited on the liner notes and I’m certain that this is where we hear him.  There’s a carnival feel and this is one of the songs on the CD that is crying out to be heard live. There’s a delicate touch to this song. 

Is that a Hammond B3 which opens the driving Viva Ché?  The latin vibe is accentuated by the percussion of Richard Bull – his name will be familiar, like that of Fayyaz Virji, to Incognito fans and he makes a great contribution to the production of this CD.  It was recorded in his London studio.  Wish I could have been there – turn this one up loud! 

Moody Incognito-style brass opens the mid-tempo The Velvet Swing.  Everyone is doing wah-wah rhythm guitar this year and these guys are too.  Listening to this track I got the same feeling as I did when I first heard “London Skyline” on the “New Edge” CD.  Acoustic Alchemy have got class and they stand out. 

Robbie’s Revenge is full of exotic references: it starts in a Bombay restaurant and heads west to London via Vienna using moody sounds reminiscent of “The Third Man”.  Of course, London has lots of Indian restaurants and that exotic feel never really goes away.  The title suggests that this song has a story – I’ve made up my own. 

The romantic Love At a Distance features only Greg, long-time collaborator Terry Disley on keyboards and Richard Bull taking care of rhythm duties.  That simplicity does justice to a lovely melody.  If this were slower, it would be a tear-jerker.  It’s almost there anyway.  Intense and gorgeous. 

The mixture of sounds on Code Name Pandora overwhelmed the song for me.  Something in the percussion and the offbeat electric guitar left me wondering are Acoustic Alchemy going to make some film music?  When you hear this, that’s a natural question to ask… 

Nathan Road is equally exotic and there is an oriental undertone to the beginning of this mid-tempo number.  UK saxman Andy Sheppard guests on this song and he blows passionately, but it’s hard to see where this road is leading… 

The simplicity and elegance return on Cactus Blue.  It’s country, bluesy and has a solid melody like so few bands can deliver.  The lazy charm of this song grows on you. 

The wistful closer The Wind Of Change is another simple arrangement featuring just three musicians.  It’s a sad song and to me it’s a clever and poignant reminder of the great work which Greg Carmichael and Nick Webb began together so long ago and which has taken on a new shape in this solid and very confident band.


Reviewed by Chris Mann


Higher Octave Music HOMCD 11103 – Producer Richard Bull