Sunday, December 22, 2013

Svarc Hanley Longhawn – “For The Greater Good” album review

From the opening few bars of “Portals” there is an almost palpable sense that “For The Greater Good” will be a release that is built up on intelligent compositions, executed by musicians that are not only highly competent in their field, but have a sensitivity for the music that raises them up above some of the more pedestrian releases. Here we have Nik Svarc on electric and acoustic guitar/loops, Steve Hanley on drums and percussion and Martin Longhawn on organ and keyboards, and hearing the album through for the first time was almost akin to hearing an album by one of your favourite artists on the ECM label through for the first time. You are assured quality not just in the playing and composition, but also in the production and the packaging. The music progresses intuitively as each individual player subtly contributes to each piece without ever disturbing the delicate balance. “Portals” moves at a variety of paces and moods which are sometimes suggestive of electric era Miles Davis, particularly the organ sound which occasionally echoes that of Keith Jarrett and/or Chick Corea around that time. To many jazz enthusiasts, this one included, evoking electric Miles Davis can only ever be a good thing. The guitar playing here has a sense that it was informed by “Blow By Blow and “Wired” era Jeff Beck, in that is successfully crosses the jazz/rock border without losing the integrity of either genre. Built up almost on a number of differing musical movements, “Portals” displays stunning musical dexterity and composition that should be of interest to supporters of a wide range of musical approaches such as jazz, avant garde, rock and modern classical. “Like a Primate” features some beautifully restrained guitar lines that bristle crisply over the ethereal organ sound to create not only deeply moving music but also phrases that can almost be picked out as “jazz earworms”.

There is almost a discordant texture to the guitar work on “It’s Cold Outside” which suggests the guitar of Sonny Sharrock, but which Svarc infuses with his own personality. Looped phrases and plaintive guitar lines add further colour and dynamic. “Heavy Sky” showcases how contemplative and melancholic the organ and acoustic guitar can sound together, whilst the albums closing “Exit” brings together the delicacy and dynamism of the previous pieces and uses those qualities to put together music that not only may be loved by jazz enthusiasts but may also be appreciated by lovers of “progressive music” in general. The album closes on a majestic crescendo that is yet another of the many disparate characteristics that go up to make one of the album releases of the year for this reviewer. Gracefulness and power are very difficult to attain without upsetting the equilibrium, but this release manages that fine balancing act with a great deal of dignity.

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