A Manchester of the imagination on one level, musicians playing on the roof garden of the Midland Hotel almost a decade before the first world war began depicted on the cover. A certain whimsy to the beginning of opener ‘Raindrops on Our Rooftop,’ the folksiness of a tin whistle breaking through from the ensemble of piano, bass, drums, marimba, French horn and woodwinds points to another preoccupation entirely.
Location is not as literal as this scene lost in time might indicate, as the inspiration in the title actually arose from a visit to Prague. But much of the material on the album saw its origins in a Manchester Jazz Festival commission and the album was recorded in the city so the two very different worlds somehow collide.
The woodwinds input make a huge diference on an album that is resolutely beyond genre. On one level it might be the music you’d hear decorating a period drama on a Sunday night slumped in front of the TV. On another, and especially as the album develops there is a Mitteleuropa feel (that aviators’ ball link perhaps) on the title track the strings gloriously swaying at the beginning and Steve Chadwick’s cornet taking up a beautiful theme soaked with melancholia a world away from brass bands but separate too from those cosmopolitan salons far away.
Owens has cut his teeth as an arranger and playing bass with the likes of Kirsty Almeida, the co-producer of this album, and debuts here on a work that draws on chamber music, folk and tiny bits of jazz quite seamlessly. Singer-guitarist Tom Davies contributes ‘Mouse Song,’ his alto voice soaring about flute and cor anglais, one of the tracks that lies at the woodwind heart of the album. Actually it is an album that is cut adrift from most genres without seeming woolly, and is certainly accessible to all who appreciate a lovingly arranged tune and are willing to be transported to some distant land of the imagination. With Owens among the personnel are jazz trumpeter Neil Yates and pianist John Ellis of the Cinematic Orchestra plus quite a large cast of players especially when you factor in the Souza Wind Quintet and the Vintage String Quartet.
Opening up ‘Going Back to The Village’ with a bass ostinato and then an adherence to a strict beat in the joining-in urgency of drummer Danny Ward backing vocals later taking up the slack the more open-ended the album becomes, as here, the more its impact is felt. On another of Owens’ compositions, ‘Every Wish Is For You,’ that winsome hugely melodic side of the bassist’s artistry rises up again, the alto flute of Atholl Ransome conveying so much so simply. But it’s the haunting Ríoghnach Connolly take on the Appalachian folk song ‘Black is the Colour (of My True Love’s Hair)’ covered famously by Nina Simone and Joan Baez in the 1960s, Cara Dillon and Christy Moore more recently, that steals the album completely in terms of impact and might just take your breath right away. SG
Released in May