The monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh had a saying, "I have arrived, I am home." Hanh's writing was an influence on this third album from husband-and-wife pairing The Saxophones, namely Alexi Erenkov and Alison Alderdice. Hanh's use of clouds as a metaphor for impermanence became a keystone for them, but his thoughts on going home surely chimed with Alderdice who returned to the bays of Inverness, California where her family have lived for generations. It was here with her spouse and their young children that To Be A Cloud was conceived and written. Erenkov says this project brought him full circle, focusing on his jazz background and a fondness for Stan Getz's bossa nova records.
On the surface all sounds serene. Simplified samba rhythms, languid vocals and jubilant trills from the reed instruments suggest a couple cut off in their own world. Even the cover photo finds them in some idyllic lagoon, Alderdice facing down the camera like those elegant models on Martin Denny's exotica album sleeves. But listen beyond this sultry sophistication and one will hear the creak of ice cracking. The Saxophones may write songs that lure us into a peaceful realm, but the real world always intrudes.
First up is "The Mist," where guitar tremolo strummings conjure something swaying in a breeze. Erenkov's lazy hazy vocals are carried by rustling flutes as he observes smoky ridges and a carefree hawk. But the brief mention of firemen is, perhaps, a cryptic reference to the California forest blazes. "Boy Crazy" goes into the parenting experience, on a slow and sensual glide, with woodwind notes like sudden puffs of air. "Nothing to explain/You know exactly what causes my pain," Erenkov sighs, either in contentment or frustration.
Hanh's poetry is referenced on "In My Defense" over a light bossa beat and drowsily buzzing saxophone. Erenkov's words depict ash on the breeze and fire flowing through the trees. "All will burn and all will freeze/All will soon be nothing again," he sighs, using his own Zen-like lyricism to searing effect. "Speak For You" refers to tears of pleasure and an awareness of mortality with a floaty soulful chorus, while on "Savanna" the singer yearns for the exotic but fears the new.
A ballad of devotion, "Goddess In Repose" waltzes delicately as Erenkov's smooth baritone suggests someone posing before a 1950s ribbon mic. "Margarita Mix" has the softcore sax and vocals befitting of such a title, but the trancelike visions of "Hunter" and "Desert Flower" summon noirish guitar throbs and sax lines full of mythic wonder.
Some albums are a reminder that we listen to music with our whole bodies, not just the ears. To Be A Cloud is one of these, its songs reflecting the peaceful coastal backdrop where they were made. Moreover, it shows how experience and imagination can merge into something Edenic, yet still authentic.
The Mist; Boy Crazy; In My Defense; Speak For You; Savanna; Conversation Soon; Goddess In Repose; Margarita Mix; Hunter; Desert Flower.
Title: To Be A Cloud
| Year Released: 2023
| Record Label: Full Time Hobby
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