Moonlight Saving Time - Meeting at Night
(MSTCD002. CD Review by Alison Bentley)
This fine band’s much awaited first CD, produced by Ben Lamdin (Jamie Cullum’s most recent producer) is a beguiling mix of free jazz, folk, classical song, swing and trip hop- but fused into something new and compelling.
Clouds opens with trumpet (Nick Malcolm) and harmonies from Malcolm and singer Emily Wright, a frontline rapport that runs through the recording: the way the purity and directness of the voice balance the fierce freedom of the trumpet is one of the band’s distinctive features. ‘The clouds play tricks’, (Lake District-inspired lyrics by Wright’s father) just as the trumpet lines trail behind the vocals, the latter poised yet emotive. Mark Whitlam’s gentle drumming brings just a little Massive Attack into the jazziness, and there’s a particularly fine piano solo from Dale Hambridge. It’s mostly in slow 5, with the beats strung subtly across the groove- typical of the way Moonlight Saving Time never draw attention to their musical sophistication, but let it serve the whole sound. The title track Meeting at Night is a setting by Wright and bassist Will Harris of Browning’s poem. Wright’s clear, folk-tinged voice negotiates the tricky melody with complete naturalness. The arrangement builds urgently, falling into free jazz as the lovers meet. Jason Yarde’s sax (he guests on two tracks) brings out the chords clearly as the cool vocal backing lines lead to a funky denouement.
The arching vocal and trumpet harmonies at times recall Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler in Azimuth- in particular Harris’ briefly haunting Trio, which works as an intro to Silence is Here, co-written with Wright. The rocking movement of Hambridge’s major-minor chords is mesmeric. The vocals are still and focused, while the arrangement gives a narrative push. The mood is dreamy, but the time shifts are complex and engaging. There are gorgeous multitracked vocal/trumpet harmonies, and a spacey piano solo over a trip hop feel.
Hambridge’s arrangement of Masefield/Ireland’s Sea Fever is slightly reharmonised, but piano and voice stay quite close to the original. A vocal breathiness brings a freshness to this well-known classical song. Desire for Nothing Known brings together Hambridge’s music with words by Wright and Martin Wells, inspired by an Emily Bronte poem; the delicate drum and bass feel gives a restlessness to the serenity of the melody and the excellent Hancock-esque piano solo. In Malcom’s Views, his spirited, free solo trumpet introduces the slow shimmering percussion: mallets, meditative chords and a thoughtful bass solo. Yarde’s sax cuts passionately through the layered counter-melodies as the piece develops through different stages.
The band takes Calvin Harris’ I’m Not Alone from clubland electronica to jazz ballad. A free, gospel-influenced piano intro becomes the gentlest of funk. Bass and voice draw out the longing in the song, with a little bluesiness in the voice. There’s a superb, sudden fall into brushes-led ballad in the chorus. The intensity of their treatment means that the pop lyric (‘If I see a light flashing, could this mean that I’m coming home…’) lies happily alongside Masefield and Browning’s lines. Dan Moore’s atmospheric Hammond (he also guests on two tracks) heightens the gospel feel and heartfelt trumpet fills between the melody lines. From My Window is another cover, written by Jamie Doe. Harris’ electric bass has an African feel, a little like Lionel Loueke. There’s a tingling moment where Wright sings the ambivalent line ‘overcast with love and beauty’ and the trumpet plays crooning free tones over the strong bass pulse, fading into ethereal harmonies.
Wright wrote Arthur’s Dance for her nephew, and the song has a personal feel, characteristic of the whole recording. It’s an uplifting final track with Latin hand percussion and joyful trumpet lines. The lyric: ‘…your dreams are your own, go where you choose…’ could be the album’s theme.
One of Moonlight Saving Time’s strengths is the fact that they’ve worked together for a number of years, and there’s a high level of trust and subtlety in their playing. It’s great to hear them continuing to develop their distinctive sound in their own compositions.
Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud