Joshua Cavanagh-Brierley: Joy In Bewilderment

Despite strong compositions, arrangement and soloing this ambitious set suffers from an an excess of variation

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It takes a brave man to start his new album not with himself or his full band – a 12-strong ensemble with six horns and three drummers among them – but with a string quartet, playing with classical precision and commitment in a seven-minute piece that is both contemplative and edgy, and completely out of style with what is to follow.

But then Manchester-based bassist and pianist Joshua Cavanagh–Brierley is nothing if not adventurous. All the compositions on this, his third album, are composed and arranged by him, and he is not afraid to share honours around.

Brew is a punchy guitar-led track for full ensemble inspired by guitarist Daniel Brew, I’ll Do As I Please a longer ensemble piece full of bombast and power that features guest saxophonist Chris Potter in eloquent voice. To break the alt-rock and fusion mood comes the lengthy Forbidden Words, vocalist Caoilfhionn Rose Birley’s understated vocals cushioned by a slow ensemble accompaniment and a fine tenor solo. In complete contrast is Attachment, a richly scored solo piano piece featuring Cavanagh-Brierley that deals with the beauty and fragility of attachment. The mood then changes again for the two concluding pieces, the first a showcase for Sam Healey’s impassioned alto, the concluder a bustling and energetic finale. 

Cavanagh-Brierley states: “This is the music that I hear, and it feels like the most honest expression I’ve created to date.” To him it all makes complete sense, but to me, the sheer variety of his music, the changes of mood and instrumentation, is off-putting rather than welcoming, as if two contrasting albums have been shoe-horned together. His ideas are great, his compositions strong, his ensemble arrangements excellent, but is his ambition outrunning him at this stage?

Discography
Joy In Bewilderment; Brew; I’ll Do As I Please; Forbidden Words; Attachment; Ophelia’s Arrival; You Can’t Whistle A Haircut (56.07)
Cavanagh-Brierley (b, elb, p); Gavin Hibberd (t); Sam Healey (as); Kyran Matthews, Chris Potter (ts); Anthony Brown (bar); Ellie Whitley, Rich McVeigh (tb, btb); Daniel Brew (elg); Daniel Wellens (p, kyb); Caoilfhionn Rose Birley (v); Alan Taylor, Grant Kershaw, Craig Hanson (d); Amika Quartet: Simmy Singh, Laura Senior (vn); Lucy Nolan (vla); Peggy Nilan (clo). Manchester, c. 2020/21.
Ubuntu Music UBU0084