On record: Acoustic Alchemy: 33 1/3 (Absolute)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acoustic Alchemy are Greg Carmichael (nylon guitar), Miles Gilderdale (acoustic and electric guitars), Fred White (keyboards), Gary Grainger (electric bass), Greg Grainger (drums)

OnSide Records CDONSIDE03 [40’39”]

Recorded 28-30 April 2016, Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk

Produced by Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Acoustic Alchemy returns with 33 1/3 – the 17th studio album of its 38-year history and the seventh since Miles Gilderdale joined Greg Carmichael to give this band an electrified edge. All the expected ingredients are in place, though with a few tweaks to their familiar sound.

What’s the music like?

Certainly, there could be no better statement of intent than East of Babylon, a hard-hitting fusion of driving rock with Eastern overtones and a dash of funk that already ranks as an AA classic. If later tracks head into more expected territory, this brings no lessening of purpose – hence the equable interplay of Carmen’s Man, then the poetic evocation of The Swallow’s Tale with its pensive acoustic intro from Carmichael and soulful sax break by Jeff Kashiwa. 33 1/3 itself is replete with deft chord changes and a soaring electric solo from Gilderdale.

There is more than a touch of melancholy to the limpid profile of Winter’s End, while the slow-burning vibe of A Little Closer brings the rhythm section of Greg and Gary Grainger elegantly into focus – not to mention nimble piano work from Fred White. Discreet contrast is provided by Blues for Mr. Mu, its swinging gait and nonchalant guitar interplay abetted by cunning syncopation. The Girl With A Plan is a further highlight in its intricate guitar patterns, against a tensile rhythmic backing that AA has made its own over all these years.

The final tracks make an unlikely though welcome detour into the medium of acoustic guitar. The Allemande (from the Lute Suite in E minor BWV996) is a flowing study in two-part counterpoint, while the Prelude in D minor (transposed from that in C minor, BWV999) is typically Bach in its delicately arpeggiated melody and methodical accompaniment. A solo version of The Wind of Change (originally recorded for the AArt album) then provides a limpid showcase for Carmichael as well as an unexpectedly ruminative close to this album.

Does it all work?

Yes – for all that the album is among the shortest of the band’s career, this is undoubtedly a case of quality winning out over quantity. The only proviso is that the acoustic transcriptions feel as though ‘added on’ to the eight tracks preceding them and might have been even more effective were the Bach placed at the centre (they can, of course, easily be reprogrammed).

Not that these latter tracks are at all redundant: indeed, an album of Bach’s Inventions and sundry two-part pieces from Carmichael and Gilderdale would be an enticing proposition.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Sound has clarity and punch, while the digipack presentation is economical and stylish as befits the CD’s supposed ‘twilight’ era. 33 1/3 might not be a radical departure for Acoustic Alchemy, yet it does confirm this band’s relevance well into the 21st century.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about Acoustic Alchemy on their website

On record: Balam – Numbers (Balam / CD Baby)

Balam: Numbers (Balam / CD Baby)

Summary

Acoustic Alchemy keyboardist Fred White continues his side-project Balam with this disc of mainly solo piano pieces. Numbers confirms his creative versatility as well as a keyboard fluency second to none among those musicians currently active on the ‘smooth jazz’ circuit.

What’s the music like?

Less varied than its Balam predecessor, on which White demonstrated his very real skills as a multi-instrumentalist across a sequence of tracks that featured brass and vocals.

Numbers instead focuses almost entirely on solo piano, over nine pieces whose numbered titles have deliberately been listed in a random sequence to encourage the listener to experience them in varying order.

Although the mood of these pieces is almost entirely muted and introspective, White evinces real command of touch so that timbre and texture never become monotonous. The exception to all of this is Four (track five on the disc), on which White’s piano has been supplemented by soprano saxophone (Jeff Kashiwa, no less), electric guitar, violin, cello and wordless vocals in music whose kaleidoscopic elements feel as enticing as they are hypnotic.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that this relative uniformity in no sense equals drabness. Certainly those who retain a liking for classic ambient piano albums such as the Brian Eno and Harold Budd collaboration Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror will respond to what is on offer here, and rest assured that White’s preference for keeping things austere is a world away from the prettified mood music of Einaudi and his ilk. A pity, even so, that the more questing approach as found on Four was not pursued more extensively: hopefully this might be the case on ‘Balam 3’?

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Fred White is a keyboardist of wide-ranging skill and subtlety, who can only be commended for pursuing his music to regions far removed from that of his regular band. Obtain the disc via his Facebook, Soundcloud or web-page entries and then enjoy the music!

Richard Whitehouse

For more information on Balam head to their Facebook page or Soundcloud. Meanwhile you can listen to Numbers on Spotify below: