Chris Allard - Invisible Landscape
(Album launch, 14th July 2016, Pizza Express Soho. Perdido Records DOR-1601 . Show and CD Review by Rob Mallows
Track six on guitarist Chris Allard’s new album Invisible Landscape is called Hekla. Hekla is an active stratovolcano in southern Iceland near the now infamous Eyjafjallajokull. Allard’s homage to it has a brooding sound, suggesting power and heat just below the surface.
At Pizza Express last night, that musical mountain erupted, sending out streams of guitar-jazz lava heralding the launch of Allard’s fourth album as a bandleader.
He recorded the ten-track album as a trio with Oli Hayhurst on double bass (on the launch night we heard the excellent six-string bass playing of Dudley Phillips) and Nick Smalley on drums. The live show and the CD also add the Memphis hues of singer/keyboardist Charlie Wood. Pianist Ross Stanley was also a guest at the launch - the presence of the guests gave the music a real adrenalin punch.
Chris recently talked to Sebastian Scotney (podcast interview HERE) about his attempts to ensure a distinctive guitar soundscape on this album, a dynamic sound suffused with delay and reverb. This was evident throughout the show, as Allard's expression of concentration attested. He worked his way around all twenty-four frets of his left-handed Gibson 335 with the ease of a Formula One driver going through the gears.
The weirdly named Morphic Resonance - the idea that all living creatures and the earth are somehow connected telepathically - didn’t require any ESP from the audience to recognise the strongest track on the album, which highlighted Allard’s harmonic creativity through the dreamy motif at the heart of this tune. The new album features Charlie Wood on two tracks, including Loesser’s classic Let’s get Lost which fizzed live with Hammond organs and Wood’s powerful voice, which also boomed out on the fifth track on one of his own tunes, Back to where it was before. This had a definite Stevie Wonder vibe going on, but sadly doesn’t feature on Invisible Landscape.
The title track has at it’s heart the sweetest of chord progressions which demonstrates the strong harmonic foundations on which Allard built this album. It’s evident that Allard has not just made, but crafted an album, such is the care given to how each note and trill serves the overall sound. Phillips' accompanied magnificently, giving his bass a good dollop of treble, providing this song with a much richer sound than is on the album.
Track eight (seven on the album) was Finn, a paean to Allard’s young son. It has the ballsiest of opening riffs and a frenetic sound which evidences why Allard’s guitar sound is in such demand, particularly from singers such as Jacqui Dankworth and Russell Watson.
A by-no-means-sold-out Pizza Express warmly applauded each track and, as album launches go, well, you can put a tick in the box marked ‘success’. The overall sound mix was a little lumpy at points, but the band did the album justice in demonstrating what contemporary jazz guitar can be.
Speaking to Allard at half-time he was evidently buoyed by the positive reaction to Invisible Landscape and keen to stress that it’s success will do more than stroke his own ego. All profits are going to support Warchild, the charity helping children affected by war. It’s positive to see Allard following in the footsteps of Ian Shaw in showcasing Jazz’s humanitarian side.
If you purchase this album not only do you get great music, but through the Warchild tie-up you make a little bit of a difference to young lives as well.