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Sunday, May 24, 2020

CD Review: Chris Montague - Warmer Than Blood


Chris Montague (guitar); Kit Downes (piano); Ruth Goller (electric bass).

In a recent lockdown interview with London Jazz News, the composer of this CD Chris Montague was asked what was the first album he purchased as a "jazz musician". Montague's reply is interesting as he said that when he was 14/15 years old he bought a John McLaughlin compilation in HMV in Newcastle ('Why not from Windows ?' I imagine the BSH editor wondering). Not a bad choice for a young teenage aspiring guitarist but also interesting for the message he took from McLaughlin's music. He said, "It felt like a completely different aesthetic to the other stuff I'd been into which was much more blues/rock oriented". Clearly it opened his eyes to the possibilities of guitar playing and music generally.

Although one wouldn't think of McLaughlin listening to this album it definitely has it's own aesthetic with constantly varying soundscapes and a warm (> 98.6F) emotional feel.

Although Montague has been involved in many recordings and with a number of well known groups this album is his first under his leadership and it is wonderful. The music is original and imaginative, as well as being experimental and improvised but without the negative connotations that are sometimes attached (often unfairly) to those words. Some of this is due to Montague's subtle compositions and guitar playing but much is also the result of the complex interactions between him and his two colleagues; long-time collaborator, pianist and ECM recording artist, Kit Downes, and electric bassist Ruth Goller. The absence of drums creates spaces for the three of them that gives the music an intriguing delicacy both engaging and stimulating.

The opening track Irish Handcuffs (Introduction) is a beautifully judged improvised guitar solo by Montague that leads into the second track, the full Irish Handcuffs with close rhythmic inter-play between a 'prepared' piano and electronically enhanced guitar with the electric bass in there as well producing a very vibrant and intricate mixture. This piece demonstrates Montague's ability to integrate unusual musical forms with the use of hocketting, a medieval musical form with a quick alteration of notes between two voices (or in this case, two instruments) giving a very distinctive sound. Apparently this effect is used in Indonesian gamelan music, Andean siku, Russian kuvutsi, rara street processions in Haiti and King Crimson. As my Irish granny would have said "It's a long way from hocketting he was born" (Gateshead, actually) but it creates a fascinating and gripping effect.

The title track Warmer Than Blood is a musical interpretation of a poem by Fiona Sampson which begins "The black beast who sleeps/under your feet raising/his back sometimes sending/shivers up your spine" and gives you a feel of the atmosphere of this piece which is subtly dark and mysterious.

A number of pieces were written for his family. FTM for his young son starts slowly and meditatively but builds up to a more frantic staccato finish and the track, Moira, inspired by his grandmother, is a heartfelt and beautiful guitar improvisation (her views on hocketting are not known).

The one standard, melodic 'tune' on the album is perhaps appropriately given the title Not My Usual, but the quality of composition across the whole album is shown by the fact that it does not stand out as something different or a 'relief', but as another fine piece of music with its place amongst all the others.
The final track Rendered began as a commission for the opening of Jimi Hendrix's flat in the house where Handel once lived and, as there wasn't much musical inspiration there, apparently Montague got started by rubbing manuscript paper onto wood chipped wallpaper (come to think of it Hendrix was inclined to rub his guitar against certain delicate parts of his body in live performance).

But however it was created this is another gorgeously musical track with beautiful repetitive bell-like sounds from the piano and guitar and ending with the sounds of the sea or the wind or maybe blood rushing through the veins.

Throughout the album all three musicians are in intuitive harmony with each other and have created some fantastic music to help deal with lockdown. My album of the year!
JC

Irish Handcuffs (Introduction); Irish Handcuffs; Warmer Than Blood; FTM; C Squad; Not My Usual Type; The Internet; Moira; Rendered.

Available now from Whirlwind Recordings.

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