James Lindsay – Tore
Independent – Now available
Already well known as the bassist of Breabach, James lindsay has steadily built a parallel career both as a premier Glasgow bassist, appearing on recordings for a host of other artists, and also as an award-winning composer. The composer in him led to the release of Torus, his second solo album after that of 2017 Strand.
With Torus, James continues to explore music that blends traditional folk and contemporary jazz. For the recording, he recruited a team of eight musicians, familiar names from folklore, others from jazz. On the folk side, there is the fiddler from Rura, Jack smedley and Angus Lyon who, when wearing his Blazin ‘Fiddles hat, usually finds himself at the piano but here plays the accordion. Finally, the traditional Gaelic singer from Skye, Deirdre Graham, manages the song that is part of a track. From the world of jazz comes the electric guitarist Ben macdonald, saxophonist Norman Wilmore and drummer Scott Mackay. James himself has his feet well placed in both camps, contributing to bass guitar with electric guitar, Moog, and other synthesizers. Is also presented John lowrie, an artist who is also well known for bridging folk and jazz. I quoted John’s self-description recently when reviewing the album. Staran, and it certainly bears repeating, “as at home playing complex contemporary jazz on drums as in accompanying Gaelic song on the piano.” However, on Torus, while most certainly contributing to contemporary jazz, it is on keyboards rather than drums. Finally, the percussion skills of Signy Jakobsdottir continually overlap a number of genres but sit very comfortably within Torus.
During the two years he composed Torus, James reflected on man’s connections to the natural world, highlighting the tensions between ancient and modern things, wild and urban places. The album title refers to the cyclical interactions with nature that have always been a part of human existence. The track list on the album cover associates the title of each track with a phrase or two. These make connections with a memory, a scientific snippet, a tradition, whatever crossed James’ mind providing him with inspiration as he worked on the piece.
The first track, Lateral roots, opens with various instruments, both traditional and electronic, bringing in short phrases, layering them until the accordion imposes a melody. As the piece develops, first the electric guitar and then the alto saxophone take over with improvised sounding solos, but perhaps James marked them; it’s his album after all. The track leaves behind an impression of intertwined sonic strands while the next track, Observatory, is very contrasting. With its inspiration being the night sky, it’s no surprise that it initially feels quite ethereal with its waves swirling around. Once the drums set it to a beat, it develops into a piece dominated by a violin melody that could almost be traditional, backed up by James’s adventurous drums, guitars and synthesizers. And, to top it off, there is an exceptional bass passage from him.
At the heart of the album is a piece that draws inspiration from the collection of truly ancient gneiss that form much of North West Scotland, both on the mainland and in the Hebrides. With its oldest components formed three billion years ago, any contemplation of the rocks of the Lewisian Complex elicits reflections on deep time and on how features of the natural world can maintain a record of events that go beyond far away from human memory. The composition of James takes Lewisian Complex as a title and, in just over ten minutes, is offered a musical version of deep time to develop its own levels of complexity. Passages with strong traditional elements evoke the sound of pipes melting into electric guitar solos that push us into the realm of experimental rock. In the midst of this melee, a saxophone solo becomes a stabilizing influence, giving way to the soothing voice of Deidre singing a passage of Gaelic poetry, Clach-stèidh, written by Ewen Henderson.
An album aimed at bringing together such a wide range of musicians and taking musicians and instruments away from their usual sound requires the best talent in production and recording. Use Glasgow GloWorm Studios and enlist Euan Burton to share the production with him and take care of the recording and mixing, James made sure that the final product was successful on all these levels.
James sums up his thoughts on our cyclical connections with nature in a phrase on the album cover, “Torus is an exploration of the flows that connect us to our world, and a reminder that change is our only constant.” Musically, this has resulted in nine pieces that continually challenge our preconceptions about music made with traditional instruments. At the same time, it is a music that allows the sounds of electric and electronic instruments to sometimes blend with, sometimes to mask the acoustic instruments while always enriching the whole. It’s music that never just stays in the background, demanding your attention as it draws you progressively deeper into its playful sound games, ultimately repaying your passionate attention.
Torus is out now. Order via Bandcamp: https://jameslindsaymusic.bandcamp.com/
Photo credit: Elly Lucas