Acoustic Alchemy - Aart
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”.
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!
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.
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…
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