It is a remarkable challenge to create a piece that is both innovative and nostalgic, one that blends the influences of the past with a vision of the future, and to do it without sanitizing one or the other. On The Imaginary Delta, UK pianist Adam Fairhall does exactly that.
Originally commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival (and premiered live at Band On The Wall), Fairhall harnesses the disparate sounds of an ensemble built around obscure, traditional, and modern instruments and technology, and sets them upon a suite of compositions informed by traditional and modern musics alike. Instruments like piano, trombone, clarinets, trumpet, drums, and bass team up with jug, didley bow, sampling, turntables, and effects, for a series of tunes informed by the blues, ragtime, stride, free jazz, modern and traditional jazz.
And Fairhall doesn’t just play it straight. These are deconstructed jazz tunes that leave the heart intact. The influences are just that… influences. This is modern, forward-thinking music that just so happens to conjure up voices from the past. In many ways, the artist most logically referenced by this album is Charles Mingus, who himself, also made experimental innovative music that, also, was heavily indebted to traditional jazz and blues. It as if Fairhall isn’t channeling the music of Mingus, so much as he is the spirit with which Mingus gave life to his music.
Now, about that music…
Your album personnel: Adam Fairhall (piano), Chris Bridges (trombone, jug), Steve Chadwick (trumpet), James Allsopp (clarinets), Tim Fairhall (bass), Gaz Hughes (drums), and Paul J Rogers (laptop, turntable, diddley bow).
The opening track starts with the processed sampling of an old recording, used as an interlude to the menacing, yet boisterous “Baptist Prayer Meeting.” As the samples diminish into the background, the other musicians enter the recording with bass clarinet sneers and stormy skies piano. Drums rattle off stark warnings, and diddley bow adds a percussive element that doesn’t cheer the mood. The is Jazz composition as balled-up fist.
But the thing of it is, that initial menace gives way to a joyous energy as the band surges more emphatically into the tune, trumpets and trombones lending their voice to the rising tide of sound. When the tide quickly recedes, and the sound returns to the opening menace… well, it just doesn’t sound that ominous anymore. Beauty need not always source from pretty sounds. There is beauty in scars, in shouts, in growls, in ferocity… just so long it’s arranged properly and played with heart and soul. The song ends as it began, quiet, eerie, and the samples of sounds from another time.
Second track “Sedalia Rag” opens with prancing horns and the scratch of turntables. The two forces wrestle, and become as one, their sounds indistinguishable from one another and from their moments of individualism. Hints of traditional ragtime peek out from the free form nature of the tune, especially if the ear follows the breadcrumbs laid out by Fairhall’s piano (most distinctive in the second half of the tune). But, again, Fairhall’s incorporation of those elements into the composition, ultimately, serve to emphasize its modernity, not its ties to the past.
On “Arabian Fantasy,” the mix of slow blues and sampled vocals is equal parts warm and haunting, like hearing the voice of a dearly departed from beyond the grave. Pace picks up with some nice solo sections, especially from trombone.
Fourth track “Tutwiler Train Stomp” is a nice blowing session tune. Bass clarinet takes the spotlight, both on its own and when matched with the higher pitched trumpet. The tune begins with effects, but the traditional instruments take over. The trumpet section is particularly riveting.
Fifth track “Victoria Spivey” begins with a repeated sample of skewed piano. It’s the type of unsettling sound one would expect to hear on a (indie-rock) Mark Linkous song. Fairhall begins playing over it, and adds an element of elegance to the proceeding. Then vocals are sampled in, with Fairhall’s piano and Bridges’ trombone playing over it. The rest of the ensemble slowly files in, adding quiet accompaniment. The tune takes several sharp turns in tempo and style, but ends the way it began, with Fairhall’s piano and the sampled vocals. It’s a nice bit of cohesion to a tune that showed many facets.
Album ends with “Harlem Fast Shout,” a hopping tune that conjures images of dance floors filled with Friday Night revelers and musicians on the bandstand playing into the wee hours of the night.
Nearly three months back, I mentioned in my brief synopsis of this album for eMusic that this is “An album of outstanding scope and vision.” Now, three months later, and plenty more listens under my belt, the truth of that statement hasn’t lost any of its strength. The Imaginary Delta is a stunning achievement.
You can stream two album songs on Fairhall’s site, HERE.
Released on the SLAM Productions label.
Jazz from the UK.