Jan 5 2012
The Wilson Hugget Project‘s Field of Hope is a confounding album. World jazz fusion (which typically means that non-American ethnic musics and/or instruments are used in a jazz context) that’s composed and recorded in two different locations (Durban, South Africa & London, England) and comes out sounding like three different albums. I go back and forth on this; sometimes it makes me mumble, “Close, but not quite there,” and sometimes I can’t stop listening to the album. Let’s talk about those three albums in one.
There’s the album that’s all smooth stroll, telling it like it is with an infectious groove. This is probably the strongest element of Field of Hope.
Then sometimes the album shows a face of grungy hard bop, straying close to the rock ‘n roll R&B of the sixties with its sway and shake. Then there’s the odd ambient heartbreak shuffle that might as well be the soundtrack to every movie scene with a dark tavern, a shot of whiskey, and a trail of broken dreams.
I’m an album-guy. I never put songs on shuffle. I like to hear an album from first note to last, and when I sense a lack of cohesion, then I get down on a recording. A lot of that is personality; I’m just not wired to transition from song to song unless I can see the path beneath my feet. Some people don’t need that, and so the alternating sounds on Field of Hope might not be a hindrance. But there you go.
On the theme of cohesion, sometimes it sounds to me like the musicians aren’t all on the same page. Maybe one is noodling a bit while a bandmate is in a succinct frame of mind… it makes for some unnecessary static. Unless, of course, that’s intentional, because when they come together, boy oh boy, it sounds so very nice. Just like dissonance can enhance the peace when it comes around, so perhaps Wilson Huggett is trying to do the same with cohesion.
For instance, “Field of Hope” sounds like a disjointed conversation between trumpet and guitar, as if talking about the same thing but not entirely understanding one another’s point of view, but that track leads right into “Fortieth,” and it’s the same conversation, but more listening and less talking, way scaled back, and it’s not a bad dialog to listen in on. It’s a brief conversation, but don’t stop listening, because “Romero” picks right up with the same dialog, but more voices are joining in, and it’s a beautiful thing, and now everyone gets what everyone else is saying and it’s like one voice.
Was the equation of clash-retreat-coalesce intentional? I dunno. Would the beauty of Romero have been as profound to my ears were it not for the seemingly disjointed nature of the song “Field of Hope”? Probably not. But it does go a long in explaining my inability to nail down a definitive opinion about this album.
So that’s where we are. I’ve been listening to this album for the better part of half a year, and I’m still not sure where I stand on it. Worth noting, however, that I still listen to this album regularly over that span of time, and perhaps my inability to dismiss it for its perceived “flaws” might be the best indicator of the album’s strength. In any event, I felt compelled to write a review about Field of Hope, and to share it with others. I’m also looking forward to their next album, whenever it gets recorded.
Personnel: Dan Wilson: basses, keyboards; Mark Huggett: drums; Yngvil Vattn Guttu: trumpet (1, 3, 7, 11, 12), guitar (8), flute (13); Luke Townsend: alto and soprano saxophones (2, 4, 6, 10); James Tartaglia: tenor saxophone (1-6, 8-10); Thor Kvande: keyboards (1, 3, 13); Robert Payne: keyboards (2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12); Dave Willetts: percussion (1, 6-9, 13).
Released in 2011 on the Jazz Direct label. Jazz from the Durban & London scenes.
A free album track is available on AllAboutJazz, courtesy of the artists.