Mike De Souza: Chrysalis

Hertfordshire-raised guitarist pairs with tenor sax and piano trio to offer a lugubrious, mostly lyrical, occasionally animated modal mixture


Raised in Hertfordshire, guitarist Mike De Souza is a graduate of both Leeds Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music. His musical career has seen him working with internationally renowned musicians such as Byron Wallen, Terence Blanchard and Martin Speake.

De Souza has played on several albums including Big Bad Wolf’s well-received Pond Life (2017) with Rob Luft. On that one De Souza played a Fender six-string bass guitar. But on saxophonist Phil Meadows’ Beware Of The Bear (2021) De Souza reverted to his more customary instrument. Chrysalis is the third release under his own name following an EP, Road Fork (2018) and his debut album Slow Burn (2019).

On Chrysalis, De Souza’s brings forward Huw V. Williams on bass and Jay Davis on drums from his first two recordings. All the compositions here were written by De Souza during the Covid-19 lockdown, so the title, suggested by his wife Diana, is apt given the sense of emergence, post-pandemic. During this time, De Souza found he had the opportunity to explore new techniques and concepts in his guitar playing in addition to immersing himself in the compositional process for hours a day without distraction.

The opener, Clementine Clouds, is a masterly example of lyricism, with haunting guitar lines overlaid by piano and lugubrious tenor saxophone. Paper Place Pilot affords De Souza the opportunity for a real workout, demonstrating his considerable chops. The mesmeric title track is bookended by a repeated eight-bar melody but there are also subtle references to it throughout the piece. Pianist Rubert Cox, whom De Souza met at the Royal Academy, contributes a lithe, memorable solo and that’s followed by a swirling tenor solo from Alec Harper. Headbanger Blissout, while starting out with a more muscular approach than the preceding tune, still retains a disciplined and reflective format. Once again, the guitar work here is highly impressive and characterised by a limpid tone unclouded by the ubiquitous effects pedals so beloved by electric guitarists. A very pleasant change.

Clementine Clouds; Looking Up; Gently Wake; Paper Plane Pilot; Chrysalis; Headbanger Blissout (43.51)
De Souza (elg); Rupert Cox (p, kyb); Alec Harper (ts); Huw V. Williams (b); Jay Davis (d). London, 25 August 2021.
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT658