On Su-Ling, his acoustic band's debut album, F-IRE Collective founding member Finn Peters is thinking big. The scope of stylistic influences is broad, and his arrangements are nuanced to suggest a considerably larger lineup than a quintet. At its most immediate, the album is reminiscent of the orchestrated tracks on Wayne Shorter's Alegria (Verve, 2003). Gorgeous saxophone and flute playing, dancing Brazilian, West African and Caribbean rhythms, foregrounded drums and percussion, and subtle overdubbing, post-production and synth colouring combine to create this rich and lyrical world jazz.
Su-Ling isn't derivative, though. It's fresh and distinctive, given character by an admixture of other ingredients. Peters is active in genres other than jazz and Brazilian music, from contemporary classical (he co-founded Nosferatu) through groove, broken beat and electronica. He brings these enthusiasms to the album too, along with a fascination with Eastern composition and gamelan music (the album is named after a type of Javanese flute).
All of this makes Su-Ling hard to categorise. Calling it acoustic jazz with world, groove, minimalist and electronic spins gets close. But whatever labels you choose, it's vibrant and exciting music, performed by an empathetic band. (In another incarnation, guitarist Dave Okumu, drummer Tom Skinner, bassist Tom Herbert and pianist Nick Ramm perform as the rock/groove/jazz quartet Jade Fox.)
Peters puts down the sax and picks up the flute on four tracks, three of which are album highlights. Gamelan music infuses the pretty and airy "Su-Ling"; an unlikely but effective blend of contemporary classical, French chanson and ostinato funk combine in "Nelson's Blood"; and forceful, disjointed, marching-band drum rhythms dominate "Machine Gun"a post-produced version of which returns as a hidden track, almost a dub, with the snare drum rat-a-tats indeed sounding like gunshots. "Ballad Boy" is a relatively conventional, but robust ballad.
There's a lot going on in Su-Ling, some of it quite deep, and this is the sort of album which repays multiple listenings.
Interesting British flute players, by the by, are thin on the ground right now. Another one worth checking is Theo Travis, whose late-2004 album Earth To Ether is a similarly adventurous, out-of-the-box disc.
Al Dar Gazelli; Gato; Red Fish; Ballad Boy; Su-Ling; N.R. Shackleton Goes To The Circus; Nelson's Blood; Fast Fish, Loose Fish; Machine Gun.
Finn Peters: flute, saxophone, percussion; Dave Okumu: guitar; Tom Skinner: drums, percussion; Tom Herbert: bass; Nick Ramm: piano, synthesiser.