This is a beautiful album, graced by rumination and reflection in its many serene sounds (though there is also sass and funk) which emanate from the ‘strange and unusual times’ of its playing and production as expressed by Al Swainger in his notes of February ‘22.
In its title, opener The Way Back articulates that hope for a return to some normalcy, the gentle flugel of Gary Alesbrook that begins the track merging into an energised synth by Swainger, both performing the musical pathway: piano – George Cooper – and bass join in a strut stepping along its route.
Flugel horn again picks up the spirit on second Sunship Travelling, echo and trills bouncing around within the acoustic guitar of Ant Law and running bass lines of Swainger, with Law extending the guitar work as the whole picks up a lively pace, Jon Clark on drums driving the ending.
Third Pause to Breathe plateaus the sound outwards, Cooper on synth, and other pervasive sounds adding an expansive soundscape (accentuated by the stereo mix). Alesbrook’s flugel has a ghostly presence within that ambience, and this is a perfect moment of the kind of atmospheric serenity I have mentioned.
Relentless follows, trumpet punching some funk with the bass, and electric guitar now plays over the melodic line. Next, The Shrug, slows to soothing, and echo rolls off the guitar chording and runs. Sass arrives in the appropriately named Stir Crazy – electronic Miles naturally springing to mind – and the relative fusion delights.
A haunting Hour of the Wolf at 56 seconds leads into the two closing tracks. Suffice to say – and needing to conclude beyond an itinerary of playing in each – these continue the excellence. As Swainger puts it, a number of tracks ‘present narrative fragments of my reaction to the 2020 pandemic but also echo feelings I’ve had for much of my life’, one of which is ‘navigating isolation’.
I can and can’t imagine what it has been like for musicians to have to endure the personal shutdown imposed by the pandemic, especially when playing and performing is all about both economic and social survival. That Al Swainger has composed, arranged and produced all the tracks on this album is testament to the strength of his navigation through tough times, and I’m sure the other musicians have borne their own in bringing such powerful empathetic playing to this collection.
Closer Remember the Sky is, as Swainger tells us, inspired by the poem Remember by Joy Harjo. This is a wonderful list poem that asks we remember our universal roots – the everything of who we are – and its poetic repetitions are an incantation to be as one, the ‘value of community’ as Swainger again puts it. George Cooper’s opening piano playing here graces the song’s melodic rumination, and when others join along there is once more a serene partnership at work which emanates the ‘invitation to be at peace’ at the heart of its composition. It is a fitting finale to an album that expresses the survival of being creative as a soothing and uplifting musical manifestation of this.
You can get it here. I recommend the cd for its artwork and information too, also in itself a palpable indication of revival.
Visit the Pointless Beauty website here.
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