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Mike De Souza: Chrysalis

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Mike De Souza: Chrysalis
For many musicians, the silver-lining of enforced isolation during the pandemic was the time to write and refine new compositions. The event enabled guitarist Mike De Souza to explore concepts for the six tracks that make up his second album, Chrysalis. This follows on from his debut, Slow Burn (Self-produced, 2019). Added impetus came from forming a new quintet, adding two new members to his existing trio.

The music on the album is a rock/jazz hybrid that melds electronic and acoustic, written and improvised, to build melodic layers of sound. The tracks may be guitar-led but the other members of the quintet are given full space to develop their own improvisational ideas.

De Souza is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to his previous work with Big Bad Wolf, he has worked with renowned musicians including Byron Wallen and Terence Blanchard. His crisp guitar style is hard to pin-down, amongst the alt-rock edginess, there is certainly a nod to Bill Frisell in the quieter moments and it perhaps may remind some of Steve Hackett. Drummer Jay Davis and bassist Huw V Williams, both long-time collaborators, form the quintet with saxophonist Alec Harper together with Rupert Cox on piano and synthesizer.

Gentle guitar drifts in over a light pulse on the shimmering opener, "Clementine Clouds." This seven-minute track commands attention as Harper's saxophone and De Souza's guitar build a mesmeric soundscape before Cox delivers a stand-out piano solo and Harper closes the track. There is a touch of folk-rock in the guitar chords and bass as "Looking Up" opens. Bass and guitar solo before warm, melodic saxophone joins and the tempo changes gear with an inspired improvised synth solo. Harper's melodic saxophone weaves around De Souza's guitar effects in "Gently Wake." Davis and Williams drive the pace forward as Cox, De Souza and Harper all deliver melody-based spontaneity.

De Souza builds a captivating solo using a variety of effects in his surging runs in "Paper Plane Pilot." His commanding fluidity and mood-rich tones receive excellent support from Williams and Davis, who hold the framework together whilst finding time for their own creative angles. Title track "Chrysalis" echoes the three phases in the transformative life of a butterfly. The first phase features a mournful but catchy ostinato that serves as an anchor, a piano improvisation over bass and drums forms phase two. Finally, the pace builds with a masterly saxophone solo from Harper that returns to the theme ending a skillful composition. The album closes with the driving "Headbanger Blissout," where rock elements and effects provide an interesting contrast with the melodic saxophone.

The long-format compositional style allows each track to evolve with inventive improvisations blending with the written sections. The musicians use space and timing well, often playing minimally but having maximum effect, other times playing with high-energy and intensity. The range of moods and soundscapes created is striking. De Souza's playing is always absorbing and engaging, making this an easy album to recommend.

Track Listing

Clementine Clouds; Looking Up; Gently Wake; Paper Plane Pilot; Chrysalis; Headbanger Blissout.

Personnel

Alec Harper
saxophone, tenor
Rupert Cox
synthesizer
Huw V Williams
bass, acoustic
Jay Davis
drums

Album information

Title: Chrysalis | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Fresh Sound Records


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