A frustrating slightly undercooked affair and yet there are some thought provoking elements to Real Isn’t Real (Green Eyes Records).
A studio production (no recording date is given) it juggles instrumental tracks with vocal counterparts. Nick Malcolm, think the sound of Loz Speyer a bit or Don Cherry, has assembled once again an interesting band of pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist Olie Brice and drummer Ric Yarborough surrounding his plaintiff fragile ache of a trumpet sound that really sends you back to old Ornette Coleman Atlantic records which is a pretty good thing in itself. Trouble is as an album this does not all hang together because it is as if the tracks with vocals (provided in sequence by Emily Wright, Marie Lister, Josienne Clarke and Lauren Kinsella) belong on an album all by themselves. There just is no obvious continuity in what you are listening to.
The atmosphere is moodily blue throughout and incorporates a certain folk music wisdom to it along the way, certainly not full of the joys of spring so for miserabilists everywhere it has that in its favour. ‘Silent Grace’, with Will Harris cropping up on bass guitar, is the most accessible but does not sit well on an album which flits between avant chordal sequences and chamber jazz. Malcolm’s solo on the third of the five ‘Spiral’ suite tracks are really at the heart of the album and on this takes him into Kenny Wheeler territory resulting in the most satisfying aspect of the whole affair, Hawkins delivering a gravity defying pan-tonal bit of accompaniment that Malcolm responds well to.
Expect the unexpected is what can be said however tritely but accurately enough about the Hawkins organ opening to ‘Grass Remembers’ which has words by WB Yeats drawn from the poem ‘Memory’ (“One had a pretty face,/and two or three had charm,/but charm and face were in vain,/because the mountain grass/cannot but keep the form/where the mountain hare has lain”) and takes the Malcolm-composed album into territory that Lauren Kinsella has explored a good deal on her own records. On the title track her contribution is the most striking and experimental of the vocal numbers and is overlaid initially with another voice, an automated sounding voice that easily makes this the most experimental aspect of all. Hawkins’ accompaniment is quite beautiful on this track but the production does not quite measure up, the overdubs add confusion and are distracting. Tour dates coming up include Con Cellar Bar, north London on 1 February.