Switched On – Szun Waves: Earth Patterns (The Leaf Label)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Earth Patterns is the third album from the creative spirits of Szun Waves – saxophonist Jack Wyllie, keyboard maestro Luke Abbott and percussionist Laurence Pike.

The sessions took place in late 2019, where a succession of ideas germinated through improvisation – and after honing the tracks with James Holden and producer David Pye they have emerged with what is described as ‘the most fully-formed Szun Waves record to date’.

New Hymn To Freedom, their second album, looked up towards the stars – but Earth Patterns is very much of this planet, an organic affair where the music grows from small cells.

What’s the music like?

There is undoubtedly a special chemistry at work in Szun Waves. Each of the protagonists has their own special contribution to make, and there are so many notes produced in Earth Patterns, but somehow the trio and their studio team make room for all of them, crafting an album where each track goes on its own meaningful journey.

The album gets off to quite a chaotic but thrilling start, Exploding Upwards establishing the myriad of colours on offer from the trio, with surges of analogue synthesizers and saxophone alike. New Universe evolves at a gradual pace but ends up in an even more exalted and euphoric state, the saxophone flying high.

As the album progresses so the range of colours broadens, and In The Moon House features shimmering metallic instruments above a drone, with deeply soulful thoughts from the saxophone. Be A Pattern For The World builds its intensity through long notes, the saxophone starting to strain in its upper register.

Final track Atomkerne is poised, the saxophone like a massive, overarching presence, as figures flit back and forwards in the middle ground with a low drone buzzing away underneath. What unites all of these ideas is the sheer strength of feeling behind them. Jack Wyllie plays his saxophone like his life depends on it, with a dizzying range of pitches from soft, low thoughts to soaring high phrases. Luke Abbott marshals the electronics beautifully, ensuring we hear the colours of the analogue synths but that they bubble respectfully when other instruments play, surging to the front when their moment is called. Laurence Pike gives us the icing on the cake with intricate, detailed percussion that can focus on metallic treble-based material one minute, then fulsome lower range instruments the next.

Does it all work?

It does – and hangs together emotionally too, for Earth Patterns is certainly Szun Waves’ most deeply felt album to date.

Is it recommended?

Yes, without hesitation. Anyone following the musical progression of any of these three artists will want to snap this one up without delay – and anyone enjoying the intersection of jazz and electronica should also do the same. A Mercury nomination would not seem to be out of the question for next year, even at this stage!.

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