Every so often an album comes along that is so sweeping in its cultural scope, and so far beyond the norms of critical discourse, that it almost beggars description. Such a disc is Earth, the fourth physical-release album from drummer and producer Nick Woodmansey's Emanative and the follow-up to the band's outstanding The Light Years Of The Darkness (Brownswood, 2015). Unlike the earlier album, whose source material comprised tunes written by Sun Ra, Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry and Arthur Blythe, all the pieces on Earth are originals written by Woodmansey and the band. In this, and every other sense, the album is an extension of its predecessor. It embraces spiritual jazz, soul jazz, cosmic jazz, Indo jazz, Yoruba ritual music and Maghrebi and Middle Eastern trance musics, and gives tips of the hat to electronica and Jon Hassell's Fourth World template. That combination in itself is enough to tickle outward-facing pleasure receptors. Butand herein lies the real geniusthe music is more than the sum of its diverse and toothsome parts. The album is not the touristic pot-pourri of styles and traditions it could easily have been and the tracks can be considered as chapters of a cohesive and focused suite rather than separate entities. With a total of 21 musicians in the collective ensemble, this is Emanative's largest line-up to date. The core octet is augmented by seven additional musicians and there are a further half-dozen guests. The Pyramids's Idris Ackamoor, who guested on the 2015 album, playing Pharoah Sanders's "Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah," returns, together with the band's David Molina. Other guests include British saxophonist Nat Birchall and onetime Egypt 80 keyboard player Dele Sosimi , in whose London-based Afrobeat Orchestra Emanative's baritone saxophonist Tamar Osborn is a longstanding star. Part of the album's success derives from Woodmansey eschewing the temptation to throw the kitchen sink at the musiceach track features a different subset of the musicians to hand. All 78 minutes of Earth are so uniformly engaging that it is impossible to pick out particular tracks as highlights. But to give you a taste... "Ìyáàmi" features Dele Sosimi as lead singer, making obeisance to the titular Mother Goddesses of the Yoruba spirit world. After a scene-setting balafon intro from Woodmansey, Sosimi's raw and intense invocations, sung in Yoruba, carry the track for another nine mesmerising minutes. Otherwordly is not the half of it. "Spice Route Suite" is more reflective but equally entrancing, with Nat Birchall casting his impeccable spiritual-jazz spell over serpentine Persian-esque accompaniment. Each and every track is a delight. The sleeve art on the front and rear of Earth's liner booklet chimes with the ethnic and cultural comingling suggested by the gatefold sleeve of Miles Davis's Bitches Brew (CBS, 1969). Intentional or not, the reference to Davis's epic masterpiece is wholly appropriate.
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