Album Reviews

Stuart McCallum – Distilled

(Naim Jazz) UK release date: 3 October 2011

Cinematic Orchestra stalwart Stuart McCallum has gathered together an atmospheric collection of solo tracks for this release. Distilled takes you through 10 chilled-out cuts in which jazz is welded firmly to electronica. These influences make for an intriguing album where an ideal setting is more likely to be a shimmering sunset rather than the smoky confines of a basement bar.

Fans of the Porticos and Simcocks of this world will find this a welcome addition to their MP3 players. The electronic approach ensures a smooth, clockwork, and almost mathematical sense of progression through the tracks – it’s the domain of twinkling lights punctuated by the throb of deeply strummed bass. Distilled has plenty going on – there are glimpses of strings and orchestral flourishes as well as dream-like harps and Spanish guitars. It’s a rich and potent mix that involves a degree of delving in, due to its lack of immediate melody and its rich atmosphere.

Before we reach the last third of the album there’s a danger that things are beginning to sound a little too similar, but any doubt is dispelled with album highlight Lament For Levenshume, a track which begins with more brooding, dark overtones before blossoming into something richer and more uplifting. The disc’s closer, Distilled, tricks you with a more traditional electronica break before jumping into a tropical samba-esque beat. It’s another a standout moment, as is the two-parter Hillcrest, which starts languidly before ending up with the kind of guitar work that would do most stadium acts proud.

This disc might not be to all tastes – the electronic elements sometimes overwhelm the jazz and the synthetic nature of the compositions means that there is little space for the organic roughness that some jazz purists may crave. The instrument that gets to improvise the most is the guitar and on the moments when it’s allowed to free associate there’s a slight threat of cheesy noodling in the air. However, this is always brought back in check by the near-perfect bass and ongoing pace of the underlying tempo.

The album’s title implies an intoxicating shot of spirit, but it’s also highly refined and filtered. Those with a penchant for more idiosyncratic overtones may be left wanting, but this album nonetheless does a sterling job of encapsulating the cutting edge of the UK Jazz scene – even if it feels a little too polished at times.

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Stuart McCallum – Distilled