Part jazz, part electro, part pop, part Frank Zappa, part Charles Mingus, part spoken-word the new album by Irish composer Jamie Thompson is a full-on experience that, at twenty songs long, is something that needs to be heard at least once.
It’s a simple premise, bring together some of the best jazz musicians (with an emphasis on them having the ability to improvise and enhance) from Ireland and the North of the UK and give them music that not only allows them to create but also to build.
It’s cinematic, industrial, operatic (‘Our Sovereign Bodies’ opens with a haunting operatic performance from Irish soprano Amy Ni Fhearraigh set against Blade Runner-esque rain drops, tinkling cutlery and open-back piano – bonkers but brilliant) but with a core built around drum patterns and 60’s be-bop jazz.
It’s difficult to classify such an attack on the senses because as soon as you think you’ve understood what is being done, the music shifts and blurs and you’re discovering a new alleyway.
In short, this is art.
The opening eight songs seem little more than a sci-fi soundtrack, creating a world through falling rain, spoken word (impressively created by Felicia Olusanya) and an 11 minute track that builds atmosphere until the pressure is so intense that only a track like ‘Territorial Irregularities’, with it’s be-bop sax and off-time drumming can break. Somewhere within this album is a great be-bop band crying to be released.
‘God Who Made Me Mighty’ is piano-led perfection (but with added industrial background noises returning it to the sci-fi genre) before an explosion of noise and confusion and the return to programmed messages and proverbs like; “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, spend nothing but time”.
Aside from it being an experience that probably would suit being consumed in one large gulp, it’s difficult to imagine where this music fits in. Like most jazz, it will find an audience here but turn people away there. On reading the notes that accompany the album, it states that inspiration for the music came from the migration into European states, using backstories such as asylum interviews and media reports, this makes sense because there is this feeling of being the outsider, of being on the other side of the glass, standing in the rain while others stand in the dry and warm oblivious to the trials and plights of those less fortunate.
‘Euro’ has a devastatingly sad brass solo, it’s engaging but also tragic.
We return again to opera on ‘Professional Empathy’, supported by jazz percussion and spoken word, before we see out the album with final track ‘We Have Seen/Some Might Say’ that sounds like the thrum of a boats engine room before a roar of passion from opera singing that develops into a jazzy piano piece that would have suited the end of The Shining or the last dance on the Titanic.
All in all, what has been achieved is something intense, startling, rewarding and deserving of total concentration. There is so much to take in, so many messages disguised and hidden.