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(70:49 / MoonJune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Conspiracy Theories 7:07 2. Press Find Enter 8:40 3. Flashpoint 5:54 4. 5s & 7s 8:11 5. End of the Line 11:03 6. Freudian Triode 10:20 7. Orinaca 5:44 8. Crackpot 8:01 9. Lydiotic 8:39 LINEUP: Phil Miller – guitar, synth-guitar Peter Lemer – keyboards Mark Fletcher – drums Fred Baker – bass Simon Picard – saxophone Simon Finch – trumpet, flugelhorn Didier Malherbe – brass, woodwinds Annie Whitehead – trombone Doug Boyle – guitar Richard Sinclair – bass Barbara Gaskin – vocals Dave Stewart – percussion
Prolusion. Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair and Dave Stewart are all famed for their work with Hatfield & The North as well as some other remarkable English bands and varied collaborations, this particular one, PHIL MILLER & IN CAHOOTS, suggesting to me it’s an all-star project, as the names of the other participants are all to a greater or lesser degree familiar to me also. The ensemble was formed at the dawn of the ‘90s and has been quite actively gigging as well as recording since then, but I must confess this their brand new studio album, “Conspiracy Theories”, is my first encounter with their work.
Analysis. The six longer compositions on this 70-minute nine-track instrumental album are all noticeably stronger than the shorter ones, and I’ll begin with those from the latter category. The title track starts off with what turns out to be its central storyline, quite a groovy melodic theme with at once a lush and tight sound, during which the group shows a very close control of measure and rhythm and where the brass instruments spend a bit too much time to flirting with each other, creating a kind of charmed circle within the maneuver’s overall structure. Thankfully the electric piano and bass ramble far beyond those unison lines, plus there are also a few movements in the classic jazz rock style where all the musicians shine with diversity and resourcefulness. In the end this is a very decent composition overall, and it’s only the band’s willingness to return to the beaten path, say, more frequently than it’s required that deprives me from enjoying it as much as I do while hearing most of the subsequent tracks, among which, in turn, only Orinaca leaves me cold. This is quite a simple, repetitive and generally catchy tune with some hints of Smooth Jazz that could interest even some mainstream radio stations (or rather would have interested - had it been delivered with a slower pace). If the creation described first only once finds its makers freely improvising over a swinging groove, this approach is the key aspect of Flashpoint, the last track in the set that’s not completely to my liking. This piece reveals some distinct changes in pace and theme, the transitions being combined with ensemble stop-to-plays; the music never even borders on mainstream Jazz, at times reminding me of the Chick Corea Trio, but since such devices as standard swing moves and alternating leads dominate, the overall result isn’t that convincing, at least from a classic progressive viewpoint. The remainder totals in 52 minutes and consists exclusively of excellent material. The airy and beautiful End of the Line may upon the first spin come across as being a jazz-ambient ballad, but is in fact quite a deep and multi-layered composition with a certain quasi-symphonic quality to it, not only filled with bewitching moods, but also featuring a lot of effective atmospheric and textural contrasts that make it assuredly worthy of repeated listens. The remaining five tracks, Press Find Enter, 5s & 7s, Freudian Triode, Crackpot and Lydiotic, form what is clearly the progressive nucleus of this recording, all having too much in common between them (especially the first four) to be described separately. None of these is notable for sharp changes in direction and so on, but those are unnecessary here. The music constantly evolves and is in the absence of breathtaking transitions sufficiently involved to make the listener fully absorbed by the proceedings. A dense and saturated palette full of prodigious inner energy, a tangle of winding spiraling melodies where there is really no border between composition and improvisation, depicts that very classic Jazz-Fusion which has been part of Progressive Rock since the genre’s very birth, thanks to Miles Davis whose revolutionary discoveries in that field coincided in time with the first progressive explorations by The Beatles, Pink Floyd and so on. Bandleader Phil Miller’s guitar work is highly original as ever and is consistently solid everywhere it is, but it’s only these five that his playing is indeed often crucial to and where he displays his full capacity as a soloist.
Conclusion. To my way of thinking, this is by and large a very good if not excellent release, some of the tracks being creations of the A category. Recommended with minor reservations.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 22, 2008
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