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Spring Heel Jack: Songs and Themes

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Songs and Themes is a visionary fusion of jazz, electronica and chamber music. With its eighth contribution to the Thirsty Ear Records catalog, the production team of Ashley Wales and multi-instrumentalist John Coxon has truly outdone itself. Songs and Themes is ambient and atmospheric while still maintaining a link to the avant-garde.

Songs and Themes is as much trumpeter Roy Campbell's record as it is Coxon and Wales.' Beginning with "Church Music," which marries the psychedlia of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) with the symphonia of the trumpeter's Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1959), it's abundantly clear that Campbell will be the featured player throughout. "Dereks" recalls Albert Ayler in a church in Sweden or somewhere, if only in metaphor as much as in memory. "Clara" is a ballad unlike any other—Campbell sings the voice of the tormented lover telling his partner everything she wants to hear, while the backdrop of tortured strings and wandering bass lines tell a much different story.

Whether providing a simple yet engaging backdrop for a featured soloist (saxophonist John Tchicai on "Dereks" and "Silvertone," Campbell on "Eupen") or guiding their ensemble in richly layered jazz-ambience ("With Out Words," "At Long Last") Coxon and Wales are at the top of their game with Songs and Themes.

The production duo does sit out for two tunes, "Folk Players" and "For Paul Rutherford." "Folk Players" is more jarring than the rest of the album, with John Edward's overbearing bass amounting to nothing more than a distraction and truly breaking the ambient flow of the record. "For Paul Rutherford" is in fact, perfect, any future release that pairs Campbell's trumpet with Tony Marsh's drums would be most welcome.

Spiritualized mastermind J Spaceman lends his guitar to "1,000 Yards," where his ultra-distorted strings are mixed at just the right level so as not to be a distraction, and "Garlands," a haunting ode to1970s film score that again features the brilliant Campbell.

To say this album is more tame, more accessible, and more focused than previous SHJ releases on Thirsty Ear Records would all be true—but one thing Songs and Themes is not, is boring. Coxon and Wales exhibit true craftsmanship throughout, showcasing their incredible ear for texture and composition, skillfully arranging so that each line and layer is voiced distinctly, offering something new to focus on with each repeated listen.

Track Listing: Church Music; Dereks; With Out Words; Eupen; For Paul Rutherford; Folk Players; Silvertone; Claraa; 1,000 Yards; Antiphon; At Long Last; Garlands.

Personnel: Roy Campbell, Jr.: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, flute; John Coxon: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, sampler, violin, glockenspiel; John Edwards: double bass; Tony Marsh: drums; Orphy Robinson: vibraphone; John Tchicai: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Ashley Wales: samples; J. Spaceman: electric guitar; Rupert Clervaux: drums; Mark Sanders: drums.

Title: Songs And Themes | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings

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