(All Made Up Records AMU0007)
Well, this is charming. I realise that phrase is usually used ironically these days, but I mean it in its old-fashioned, genuine sense. And there is something charmingly old-fashioned and genuine about this album, too. It’s there in the title, it’s there in the cover art (a blurry, tinted image of musicians playing on the roof garden of The Midland Hotel in Manchester in 1905) and it’s there in the instrumentation, with palm court strings, soaring woodwinds and piano filigree.
Matt Owens is a bass player, composer and arranger from Manchester with a wide range of experience in all kind of music including writing for film and television. This debut album reworks material he wrote as a suite called Ten for the Manchester Jazz Festival, and it gathers together an eclectic mix of musicians, from jazz players like trumpeter Neil Yates, to singer/songwriters Tom Davies and Zoe Kyoti, from The Souza Wind Quintet and The Vintage String Quartet to the Cinematic Orchestra’s pianist John Ellis.
It was suggested it might appeal to fans of Penguin Cafe, but I am relieved to find it somehow skirts that rather irritating tweeness. Sometimes it feels closer to the music of someone like Sufjan Stevens, which is a definite thumbs up as far as I am concerned.
Most tracks are instrumental and Owens’ own compositions sit nicely in an unclassifiable place somewhere between light jazz, classical and folk music. The atmospheres are subtly non-specific, giving the listener his/her own imaginary film to create for these soundtracks.
Yates adds some gorgeous folk-tinged lyricism with his trumpet and tin whistle solos, while the string and winds writing might be fairly conventional but is no less effective for that, and the guest vocalists are all strong.
The real stand-out track for me is the traditional Scots ballad Black Is The Colour, sung with mesmerising folk melisma by Ríoghnach Connolly against a steady bass, piano and brushes backing which then blossoms into wind quintet interludes. And under all this, sits an organ drone that serves to echo the dark, tragic even, subtext that Connolly locates so effectively in what is, on the surface, a plain love song. Worth the price of the album for this piece alone!
- Matt Owens will be presenting The Aviators’ Ball live on Monday 18 May at St Werburgh’s Church in Chorlton, Manchester, as part of the Chorlton Arts Fest. More details here. The album is officially released on that date too.
Categories: CD review