CD REVIEW: Hampshire and Foat – Galaxies Like Grains of Sand



Hampshire and Foat – Galaxies Like Grains of Sand
(Athens of the North. AOTNCD 10. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)


The striking blend of distinctive strands of music which make up this album is heralded by the collaboration of two very different musicians. Warren Hampshire is an inventive multi instrumentalist (guitar, Hammond organ, celesta, percussion) and a member of the Bees (known in America as A Band of Bees), whose debut album was nominated for a Mercury Prize. Greg Foat is a gifted British jazz pianist and composer whose eponymous group has been, among other things, the band in residence at the Playboy Club in Mayfair. His debut album was cited as one of the best jazz releases in Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards in 2011.

The jazz credentials of Galaxies Like Grains of Sand are much reinforced by the presence of drummer Clark Tracey. Indeed, while the album title may reference classic 1960s British science fiction — a collection of short stories by Brian Aldiss — the cover art deliberately echoes great British jazz of the sixties, specifically October Woman by Michael Garrick on Argo. And Hampshire and Foat’s record label, Athens of the North, even has a logo which pays tribute to the Argo logo.

The title track opens as shimmering electronica, and a menacing, relentless groove develops with hypnotic tick-toc percussion yielding to the warning growl of Justyna Jablonska-Edmonds’s cello, which duels with the menacing sizzle of the synth. Electronic tones continue to thicken the texture and stretch out into an ambient background soundscape, dropping still further back from the chiming cascade of Gregg Foat’s Fender Rhodes. One of the declared influences for the album is 1960s Italian film music and there’s certainly a Morricone-style wail to Julian Appleyard’s oboe here.

Samples of wind, rain and birdsong precede Lullaby while Warren Hampshire’s calm, measured guitar provides the sinews of the piece, advancing at a steady pace as Gregg Foat’s vibraphone and tubular bells chime and expansive strings blossom around them. (The string section also includes Sinéad Gallagher and Kate Miguda on viola and Feargus Hetherington on violin.) The music fades and leaves us back with the wind, rain and birds…

The Solar Winds features a wash of strings and judicious, tentatively funky Fender which sets the scene for a warm, rolling sequence with Clark Tracey opening up on drums and Phil Achille playing fat fills on bass, Foats’s Fender remaining always central. End Song again summons up Italian soundtracks — this time perhaps the work of Piero Umiliani or Piccioni. Gregg Foat provides the affecting arrangements throughout album, except for How the Nights Can Fly, beautifully arranged by Emily Lim, a London based composer and trumpeter. Lim’s chart, not surprisingly showcases the yearning, rhapsodic performance of Trevor Walker who plays trumpet and flugelhorn on the sessions.

This is a memorable and distinctive album which blends very British experimental music and psychedelia with a strong and lyrical strain of British jazz. It’s endlessly listenable and makes for a pleasurable ambient experience while also repaying deeper and more focused listening, which will reveal the layers of skilful arranging and superb playing. The exceptional ensemble also includes Rob Mach and Konrad Wisniewski on tenor saxophone.

In addition to CD and DOWNLOAD, this is available as a vinyl release, too (AOTNLP 10), and I for one plan to seek it out.

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