Dolphin is billed as a collaboration between a jazz musician, British keyboard player Greg Foat, and an ambientist-electronicist, Italian synthesizer player Gigi Masin. Depending on taste, you may find the album mellifluous and relaxing, or vacuous and inconsequential.
Unintentionally but irrefutably, Foat and Masin's project highlights the unbridgeable disconnect between jazz and ambient. Jazz is intended to be actively listened to, to be met halfway and engaged with. Ambient is designed to hover in the background, without conscious attention being paid to it, while more important activities (compiling the shopping list, doing the ironing) are engaged in. In any "collaboration" between the two genres, ambient's prescriptive play-it-safe paradigmsrhythmic, melodic, dynamicmust be complied with, for the horses must never be frightened. If, on the other hand, jazz's unfettered stretching-the-envelope aesthetic comes out on top, the ambient half of the equation is subsumed. Flip that around, put ambient's restrictions on top, and you get the abomination known as smooth jazz.
Brian Eno, an apologist for ambient, has defined it as "music that does not demand attention, but repays attention when that is given," which actually muddies rather than clarifies the waters. It is no coincidence that Eno was also an early adopter of so-called generative music, that is, music "composed" by AI on computers, for if any music lends itself perfectly to AI creation it is ambient. While Eno's definition of ambient, such as it is, does hold true for some of his own better work in the field, even with that, there comes a time when, unless one is hooked up to a diazepam drip, the desire to hear something unpredictable asserts itself.
The strongest tracks on Dolphin are three which feature guest musicians, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Moses Boyd, two of the most distinctive talents on London's alternative jazz scene. Herbert and Boyd are not asked to do much here, but they do add a little sinew. The best of their tracks is "London Nights" (check the YouTube below).
Postscript: One remembers a pre-pandemic gig at London's Jazz Cafe by Binker and Moses, Boyd's ferocious semi-free duo with tenor saxophonist Binker Golding. Boyd wore a t-shirt loudly emblazoned with the slogan "Smooth Jazz Sucks." Just saying.
Lee; London Nights; Love Theme; Dolphin; Sabena; Leo Theo; Viento Calido; Your Move.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.