Tim Garland's wider profile probably stems from the reed player's work with Chick Corea, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, and his trio with Joe Locke and Geoff Keezer. Yet he has an extensive discography of solo recordings and collaborations stretching back to the folk-based band Lammas, which first brought him to notice in the 1990s.
He is one of the busiest players on the UK scene, having recently undertaken an extensive tour with the Acoustic Triangle trio, performing in small churches alongside the standard clubs and arts centres. But this new recording, If the Sea Replied, is quite different from his previous projects, and it's something rather special.
As the title suggests, the fourteen "movements" are inspired by the sea, more specifically the lighthouses "which have safeguarded the routes that first connected our world." The "Lighthouse Project" grew out Garland's new post at the University of Newcastle and a commission from the new Sage centre in Gateshead.
The music is built round the trio of Garland, Gwilym Simcock, and Asaf Sirkis, occasionally coloured by the Strings of the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra. Strings can often be hazardous territory for jazz, coating the music in syrupy sub-Tchaikovskian ooze. But Garland has gone for a much more abstract, spikier sound that owes more to Benjamin Britten (another fine painter of musical seascapes) than any of the Romantics. Interestingly, Ian Carr, a native of this northeast region of England, wrote an extended piece for trumpet and strings in the '80s ("Northumbrian Sketches," on Old Heartland) with a similar chill to the strings. That stark coast would appear to inspire a craggier music than more southerly shores.
A striking feature of the work is the way it uses recordings of lighthouse keepers' voices from St. Mary's in Whitley Bay, providing atmospheric bridges between sections. The music itself ranges from the agile interplay among the three main players on the opening "Tide Races" through the brooding bass clarinet of "The Machine" and the almost Coltranesque intensity of "Storm Warning." On a number of tracks, guitarist Don Paterson (also a former member of Lammas) plays Ralph Towner to Garland's Paul McCandless. The Oregon connection is reinforced on "Going Ashore," where Simcock's French horn, Paterson's guitar, and what appear to be synthesizer patterns (though no synth appears in the credits) evoke some of the freer moments on that group's recordings, before cohering into a joyous up-tempo melody.
If the Sea Replied will appeal to listeners who enjoy compositions that evoke specific natural images. On "Six or Seven Lights" and "Dark House," for example, you can visualise the beam from the lighthouse flashing every few seconds. Yet this is not mere mood musicthe playing is spirited with strong sections of inspired improvisation.
In a world littered with the carcasses of large-scale jazz pieces that have failed to gather interest beyond their initial performances, If the Sea Replied stands as a well-constructed, evocative, exciting musical statement that deserves to be heard widely and performed frequently.
Tide Races; The Machine; St Mary
Tim Garland: soprano, tenor, bass clarinet; Gwilym Simcock: piano, french horn; Asaf
Sirkis: udu, percussion, drums; Don Paterson: acoustic guitar; Malcolm Creese: double
bass; Strings of the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra.
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