CD Review: Tim Garland - Songs to the North Sky

Tim Garland - Songs to the North Sky
(Edition. EDN1051. 2-CD set. CD review by Mike Collins)

With landmarks like his contributions to Chick Corea’s Grammy winning New Crystal Silence and 2009’s well-received Lighthouse Trio album Libra with the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra, Tim Garland’s skill as a composer-arranger is well established. On this first outing for Edition Records, the suite from which the album takes its name, featuring The Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings , is only half the story. There’s a full second CD of an augmented Lighthouse. Garland and regular drummer-percussionist Asif Sirkis are joined by Ant Law’s distinctive and lyrically fluent guitar and the prodigious bass of Kevin Glasgow. Geoff Keezer, Jason Rebello and John Turville variously occupy the piano chair. The two CDs offer contrasting but complementary musical flavours.

Songs to North Sky, written for orchestral strings is arranged as pairs of short pieces. The second piece becomes the writer-arranger’s response to the mood and theme of the first. It’s like an improvisation for orchestra but considered and crafted by the writer. A steady pulse that persists through Tyne Song, as the strings eddy and flow around the soprano’s development of a lyrical theme, is picked up in Storm of Kielder. More discordant flurries and freer blowing from Garland introduce new ideas. Little Bay Blue’s lightly dancing mood with streams of gradually ascending quarter notes tracing out a soaring melody, has a celtic flavour as Magdalena’s Fitzpatrick’s violin blends with the soprano. Growling basses, a choppy rhythm and rasping tenor then offer a sharp contrast in Shapes of Northumberland. It’s often unreservedly romantic, the traditional music and melodies of the north never far away. It’s impossible not to sigh over the repeated melodic motif of Lullaby of the Road that typifies a very personal air to the suite. The leader’s distinctive sound, wittily characterised by Don Paterson’s liner notes as occasionally conjuring an image of Joe Lovano stuck up a fjord, is a constant thread. Solo improvised links by John Pattitucci’s bass blend one pair into the next.

Lighthouse, by contrast, are all fleet of foot, dynamic interaction and lightening reflex improvisation from the first rat-a-tat blast of piano and drums that introduces Uplift!, a bouncing fusion like piece with blistering, work the changes, solos from Tim Garland and then Geoff Keezer on piano. On Little Sunshine, its tempting to wonder if Jaco has returned for one last ghostly turn, but no, its Kevin Glasgow’s bass doubling the tenor melody in a catch the breath moment, before Jason Rebello unleashes a joyous, singing solo. There are more meditative pieces. A Brother’s Gift features Ant Law’s semi-acoustic sound with a work out for Asif Sirkis’ Hang drums. Lammas Days with its skirling theme celebrates a more overtly folky side, before a breathy emotionally taut cover of She’s out of my Life closes the set.

Contrasting, complementary and linked by Tim Garland’s fertile imagination, these two sets seem to present all the sources of inspiration that animate him in a delightful and coherent musical journey. A tour de force .

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