Album reviews: Colin MacIntyre | John McLeod | Acoustic Ladyland | Partisans | Chris Wood | Jerusalem


THE man who was Mull Historical Society continues to let his island roots subtly influence his music, this time with less catchy pop, more folky introspection. Island was recorded live with local musicians in his old primary school classroom in Tobermory and includes some first takes and very rough vocals. On the fine Cape Wrath, this lends a certain plaintiveness but elsewhere MacIntyre is just plain off-key. The material tends towards the drab, but there are standout moments such as Ned's Song (Brother) delivered in the intimate country folk style of a Caledonian Will Oldham before opening out for an epic piano coda.




PRIORY, 12.72

MARK Tanner pulls together this highly attractive, highly listenable sequence of new piano works, and delivers them with a flair and spontaneity that reflects the freshness of the notes on the page. Not all of the works are brand new. Mervyn Burtch's Five Aphorisms and Graham Fitkin's Furniture date from 1989, but in the context of his thoughtfully-designed track list, Tanner positions the artful conservatism of the Burtch and Fitkin's jazzy propulsion with decisive conviction, almost as stylistic benchmarks for the newer inspirations of Colin Decio (the film-like simplicity of The Music Box Suite), Philip Martin (the all-embracing miniatures that make up Prism and the subtle impressionistic undertones of Hills of Wind-Blown Sand), and the whimsical multi-stylistic broth that is Frederick Stockton's Bagatelle.

This feast of contemporary miniatures acts as a preparation for Scots composer John McLeod's substantial collection of 12 pictorial aphorisms – Haflidi's Pictures – inspired by pictorial sketches by the Edinburgh-based composer/painter Haflidi Hallgrimsson. There's something similar in design and spirit between these and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, but a world away from these in style. They are largely responsive musical gestures – the filtering in of the "Dies Irae" theme in A Devil in the Cupboard, together with brief spoken introductions – which together constitute a sum far greater than their brutally succinct parts. McLeod himself provides the verbal links. I wonder if they are really necessary. Tanner's musical insights seem descriptive enough.





LONDON'S jazz punk maniacs Acoustic Ladyland have shifted the goalposts again, with a rockier sound this time round, courtesy of new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who riffs with abandon all over several tracks. But Acoustic Ladyland is still saxophonist Pete Wareham's gig and his lead contributions are more creative and melodic than ever. The album opens with Sport Mode, one of his strongest, most demented sax hooks yet. Death By Platitude and Not So are closer to the hectic, high velocity no-wave splatter of earlier albums, while The Mighty Q has to be one of the most ominous tracks ever written about a newborn baby. The pace drops off towards the end to be replaced with a more soulful and languorous comedown, but the interplay between the musicians is just as extraordinary.



BABEL, 12.72

PARTISANS are one of the most consistently inventive and original bands currently working in jazz, and this is the strongest recording they have released. The London-based quartet features guitarist Phil Robson, saxophonist Julian Siegel, bassist Thaddeus Kelly and drummer Gene Calderazzo. The band's edgy, energised sound and imaginative soloing is always absorbing, and the manifest rock and funk influences on their music are always fully integrated into the overall sound and concept. Robson and Siegel provide four and three compositions respectively here, alongside Wayne Krantz's Partisans #1 and a remarkable electronica-infused reworking of Duke Ellington's Prelude To A Kiss. While Robson's multifaceted guitar work and Siegel's fluid outings on tenor and soprano saxophone and bass clarinet grab the attention, the contributions of Kelly and Calderazzo are equally crucial elements in creating the band's distinctive sound and palpable sense of collective engagement.





A FASCINATING two-CD retrospective of the music of one of England's most intriguing folk musicians. Wood's selection of material is not an entirely obvious one, but to these ears it reflects an essentially honest and accurate picture of his particular qualities as a singer-songwriter, fiddle player and guitarist. He has drawn from ten of his own albums (omitting only a live disc with accordion player Andy Cutting, although their long-running duo is well-represented here), along with a song recorded with Karen Tweed, a track from Simon Emmerson's The Imagined Village project, and the previously unreleased song The Farmer, made with Tweed, Cutting and Ian Carr for an unrealised Christmas project. His BBC Award-winning song One In A Million is here, along with a trove of often dark but equally compelling songs and instrumentals.




ALIA VOX, 29.35

WITH The Celtic Viol (Alia Vox), the Catalan viol-player and impresario Jordi Savall recently turned his attentions to the ancient folk music of Scotland and Ireland – to charming effect – but his big exploit this year is an extraordinary CD entitled Jersualem. This arose from an invitation by the Cit de la Musique in Paris to create a series of events on the theme of the three great monotheistic religions: Savall and his colleagues realised that the history of Jerusalem – whose Hebrew name means "city of the two peaces" (heavenly and earthly) – would make the perfect frame. The result could hardly be more topical.

This double-CD, which comes as part of book translated into eight languages, takes us on a musical journey from the trumpeting-down of Jericho's walls in 1200 BC, via soldiers' songs from the Crusades, to the strife-torn present. Savall's army of musicians includes top-flight exponents in the vocal styles and on the traditional instruments of all three religions, with Armenian dudukists and Greek Orthodox chanters representing Christianity.

There are some wonderfully recherch things, including a Sephardic chant from Sarajevo, and many different local forms of the zither. The Christian soldiers' song from the First Crusade, sung by the Capella Reial de Catalunya, is arrestingly humble and realistic, reflecting a painful awareness of impending death; Nejat Ferouse's recitation in Turkish of The Song of Solomon has a strikingly graceful lilt. To have the same prayer for peace sung in Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, and Greek makes a powerful plea for synthesis.

The heart of this whole brilliant enterprise is embodied in that Sarajevan chant. It segues into a haunting Palestinian lament by Mufawak Shahin Khalil, which is followed by an Armenian lament by Razmik Amyan, after which we hear the awe-inspiring cadences of Auschwitz survivor Shlomo Katz, recorded with the memory still painfully fresh in 1950.