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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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ROBIN WILLIAMSON

Trusting in the Rising Light

ECM 378 0287

 

 

Trusting in the Rising Light

Roads

Our Evening Walk

The Cards

Just West of Monmouth

Night Comes Quick in LA

Alive Today

These Hands

Swan

Your Kisses

Falling Snow

The Islands of the Inner Firth

Robin Williamson (vocals, Celtic Harp, Guitar, Hardanger Fiddle, Whistles)

Mat Maneri (viola)

Ches Smith (Vibraphone, Drums, Gongs, Percussion)

Recorded January 2014, Rockfield Studios, Monmouth

ECM 378 0287 [51:09]

Scottish singer and instrumentalist Robin Williamson, co-founder of The Incredible String Band, here joins American violist Mat Maneri and jazz percussionist Ches Smith for a 51-minute release for ECM.

The title track establishes the underlying concept: folk-based poetic music-making, with sometimes over-written lyrics (all by Williamson and all helpfully printed in the booklet) from an integrated trio dominated by the occasionally fragile Williamson vocals but with a strong sense of colour and place. The literary focus is on the natural landscape, and Williamsonís curlicues vest the title track with a religious spirit of ascension. Heís a good guitarist but an inventive Celtic harpist, and itís this instrument he plays on Roads Ė a track that reminds me somewhat of Johnny Cashís discs made with Rick Rubin. Our Evening Walk, a beautifully spare and contained song, is motored by a powerful drone on viola with Williamson playing some decorative fiddle over it. His vocal range, a strained falsetto coiling and twisting down to a more guttural bass, is at its most marked in The Cards. The song is based on an Irish harp melody, but Williamson makes something very personal of it even though Iím aware that his voice will be a divisive matter.

Given that there are only three players and that sometimes, as on The Cards, Williamson just plays solo, it is good to break things up. The oriental percussion that haunts Just West of Monmouth, with its parlando from Williamson, is not without wit, though also not without also its absurdist Jazz Poetry reminiscences Ė all joss sticks and Allen Ginsberg. Such is also the case, perhaps, in Night Comes Quick in LA Ė spoken texts over a shifting athletic drum pattern. We get a more popular sound in These Hands of Mine swinging with just a touch of Paolo Conte about it.

Sometimes Williamsonís aesthetic becomes just too wispy and fey for my tastes, vaporous vocal curlicues trying to vest the lyrics with a weight they might not otherwise possess. But when he evokes Eastern shimmering sonorities he becomes calmer and in many ways more evocative Ė try Falling Snow for a Celtic-Japanese hybrid but be careful as the track ordering has gone awry. This is track 10 not 11. Track 11 is Your Kisses, which has a slightly Arabic soft Rock vibe. Wrong-footing dissonances and a generous helping of sheer pretentiousness attend the final track, The Islands of the Inner Firth.

So, what do we have? Not Jazz, thatís for sure. Folkloric music, but not just Celtic folk music; folk music cross-fertilized with Eastern and Middle Eastern tinges. Personal lyrics, all by Williamson, dealing with love, longing, and the beauties and harshnesses of the natural world. Itís a curio, to be frank.

Jonathan Woolf.



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