Published: November 24, 2015
There’s something other worldly about this collaboration between innovative jazz vocalist Tom Barton and guitarist/composer Diego Villalta. Recorded in Osaka and inspired by the duo’s experiences touring Japan the collection is wholly improvised, showcasing a broad range and variety of styles yet remaining coherent enough to suggest it could only have been this way. Barton describes it as “a free-jazz aesthetic, featuring extended vocal techniques and live looping, and electric guitar and FX” which is certainly true, if a little mechanical when set alongside the emotional outpouring of the best moments here.
Opening track “Trust” grabs the attention straight away— Barton’s vulnerable, wordless, improvised vocal gliding over the waves from the decaying electronic sounds. The recording is wonderful, you can hear the breath on the vocal, presumably intended as a juxtaposition of organic texture against the synthesised electronics. There is a great balance between the voice and Villalta’s thoughtful, dignified electronics that sit more in the Biosphere, Deathprod or Jan Bang/David Sylvian schools than anything that is likely to turn up in your local mainstream night club. The track is followed by “Sensei” where Barton improvises a manipulation of a single phrase that feels like a mantra over Villalta’s rhythmic guitar lines. The effect is a little reminiscent of what James Blake attempted by electronically manipulating his voice a few years ago, but has the advantage of the improvised, the unexpected, that lifts it higher.
Villalta’s piece de resistance is the track “A Forming Universe” where the desolate, muted electronics build slowly like tectonic plates edging closer together. It feels cinematic -painting an urban landscape in the chill before dawn, as the sounds of the machines of the city grow into the day, with beautiful understated hints of what sounds like a muted saxophone and treated guitar. The early sections develop to a point reminiscent of classics like David Sylvian and Holger Czukay’s “Plight and Premonition”—and a measure of how good this is, is that neither piece is diminished by the comparison. Barton’s contribution here is the simple yet effective wordless cry from the 4minute 30 mark conveying isolation and feelings of being overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
The range is unusual, yet from the edgy guitar and wordless Jeff Buckley vocal textures of “Growing Up” to the more experimental “One Night of Hedonism (One Day of Vegetables)” the tracks simply feel like looking at an object intensely from different viewpoints. The latter is an extraordinary piece of filmic music -the multiple voices become nightmarish, claustrophobic even, before the tension reaches crisis point and dissipates into a gentle resolution. What all this has to do with hedonism, or indeed vegetables, is open to conjecture but it is always enthralling, holding the attention for its near 11 minute duration.
If you are looking for gentle re-treads of past greats, this is conceivably not going to be your cup of tea. Barton and Villalta have made an album that contrasts a becalmed inner world with the chaos and beauty of the world that they see around them. That they have managed this in such a melodic and engrossing way suggests a greater constancy to jazz’s restless spirit than any number of aspirational takes on the ‘Great American Songbook,’ but then each to their own. Highly recommended.
Track Listing: Trust; Sensei; Prelude to the Bus Ride; Growing Up; A Forming Universe; Dawn; One Night of Hedonism (One Day of Vegetables); The Bus Ride.