Technical wizardry is often its own reward but usually just for the wizards. Bassist and composer Al Swainger shows how, by combining sound musical judgement, original charts and inspired playing, it can make converts of those listeners for whom the sight of a jazz musician plugging into the mains is good reason for wondering if the sound desk will be up to its job.
Bristol-based Swainger wrote, arranged, produced and (with Alex Killpartrick, who bore the heavier burden) mixed the tracks on this engaging album. He also took the photographs for the sleeve, assembled its artwork and completed its design. But far from displaying the shortcomings of multi-tasking, Hearts Full Of Grace is made to sound as though the loss of the minutest detail would be a flaw. It’s the acme of musical concept management.
As well as merging electric and acoustic, the album is personal, especially in relation to the pandemic, its lockdown and its creation of uncertainty. It’s also personal in a non-pandemical way – one has to take Swainger’s word for it – as the mind-echoing Existential Blues and the strange interlude Hour Of The Wolf possibly testify, the first an extraordinary bass solo with effects. There’s a moment at about 5.12 on the final Remember The Sky when the mood becomes upbeat after a haunting piano intro by George Cooper fringed with receding, faintly echoing electronica, of which Ant Law’s acoustic guitar and Gary Alesbrook’s flugelhorn succeeding it are free before all climb aboard for a joyful coda.
There’s much to captivate: Jon Clark’s complex rock drumming, always on the beat; Law’s piping electric solo on Relentless and moderation on The Shrug; Alesbrook’s easy switching ’twixt flugelhorn and trumpet; the space odyssey of Sunship Travelling; the stirring Stir Crazy; and everywhere Swainger’s expansive soundscapes. It’s a parcel of gizmo goodness.
The Way Back; Sunship Travelling; Pause To Breathe; Relentless; The Shrug; Stir Crazy; Existential Blues; Hour Of The Wolf; Two Steps; Remember The Sky (47.25)
Al Swainger (b, kyb, syn); George Cooper (p, kyb, syn); Ant Law (g, elg); Gary Alesbrook (t, flh); Jon Clark (d). Bristol and Swindon, May 2021; August 2020-2021.
Other Compass Records OCRPB010