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Three quarters of the celebrated 70’s version of the legendary group which recorded the acclaimed ‘Softs’ album in 1976, are completed by outstanding sax star Theo Travis. The band plays material from the era (compositions by Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge, Karl Jenkins) as well as many contemporary works, as featured on their recent album ‘Burden of Proof’.
“Burden of Proof is, to put it mildly, absolutely exquisite. These are four musicians who are masters of their craft, and truly at the top of their game, not only as soloists but as contributors in an actual band. They've put together here a collection of songs that basically has something for everyone; challenging jazz-fusion, adventurous prog-rock, bits of chaotic free-jazz, atmospheric instrumental popjazz, and even a little hard rock. Extraordinary!"
Venue: The Arts Depot, London
Date of Gig: Monday 30th June 2016
If you like music operating at the fluid interface between jazz, ambient and prog, you’ll wish you’d been in north London to witness Theo Travis and his band (guitarist Mike Outram, organist Pete Whittaker and drummer Nic France) in full, flowing effect.
You can see why prog mainstays and outliers as esteemed as Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Steven Wilson, Gong, David Sylvian and Harold Budd have flocked to work with the saxophonist, flautist and composer. His music’s not all ECM-style slow serenity and late-period Talk Talk tranquility, though. There are moments of Mahavishnu-esque intensity when the players threaten to tear the roof off.
It’s a varied set. Sometimes they seem less like a prog band than a modern jazz quartet. Much of the show comprises tracks from the 2015 album Transgression, but there are intriguing diversions. Travis introduces a song “by a great British songwriter who is no longer with us” – Syd Barrett’s See Emily Play – with an addendum about stopping at Toddington Services on the M1 and getting a call from David Gilmour to join him on tour in Europe. It might not be everyone’s cup of hallucinogens – the sinister psych strut of Syd’s original is replaced by sweet and sour sax noodling – but it’s certainly different.
Sometimes it’s a tad smooth. But then they’ll throw in a drum fusillade or a sax blast and you’ll be back on prog terra firma. It’s all very grown up, with tasteful applause not just at the end but for solos within songs too. Smokin’ At Klooks has a bossa nova, Latin feel worthy of Abraxas-era Santana. And a tune inspired by Iain Banks’ The Crow Road has a quirky rhythm, somewhere between cool jazz and more frenetic prog.
It’s a show of two halves. Fire Mountain kicks off the second half, with some McLaughlin-fast guitar and virtuoso sax. Song For Samuel is like Steely Dan if they eschewed tunes for dexterous jazz fusion. The audience are transfixed by the version of Robert Wyatt’s Maryan, while Portobello 67 hints at psychedelic jazz.
They climax with a song about Pluto’s changing planet status. Suitably, it has all the alien quirks, strangeness and charm of Captain Beefheart. But then Theo Travis has a magic band of his own.
Update: New solo studio album 'Open Air' to be released on Tonefloat Records in Spring 2017.
Theo has recently completed work on a new solo flutes studio album. Broadly a follow up to his 2003 album 'Slow Life' the new album comprises 10 flute tracks – bass flute, alto flute, concert flute and various wood flutes, often layered in hypnotic loops and largely ambient and atmospheric in nature.
Recorded in late 2016 in London at Andrew Tulloch's Blue Studio, the album, to be called 'Open Air', will be released on the Dutch Tonefloat label in Vinyl and Download only. There will be a special limited edition of only 75 copies for collectors, with completely different artwork and a Burgundy cover, as well as the regular edition with a Green cover. Both editions feature specially commissioned photos by Brighton photographer Mark Nelson.
The special edition will also feature a link to two exclusive high resolution bonus tracks recorded from the same studio recording sessions.
There will be copies of both the special edition and regular edition available from my website shop (and also www.tonefloat.com) which can be signed on request. In addition to the download code, copies from my site will include an exclusive signed photo.
An announcement about pre-ordering of the album will be made shortly.