CD REVIEW: Simon Lasky Group – About the Moment

Simon Lasky Group – About the Moment
(33 RPM Ltd. CD review by Rob Mallows)

A moment, I discover. was a medieval unit of time. 1/40th of a solar hour on a sundial, to be exact. We’ve moved on since then of course, but the moment is still with us. Music can be "of the moment". We experience moments of sheer bliss, or terror, or realisation. It also signifies an effect or influence. Moments, therefore, have import and deep meaning.

British keyboard player Simon Lasky’s second album is all about finding these moments when things become clear, tension is released and the music makes sense. As the title suggests, it’s focused on precise revelatory periods in music which seek to stimulate, to induce in the listener the shudder of realisation; the epiphany of understanding.

While we’re not in classic territory, there are certainly plenty of moments in About the Moment that, in the author’s description of the album, “take your breath away”.

Lasky is a pianist with a classical background, and listening to this album that comes across in the precision and deftness of his touch on the keyboards. He also seems to be a very generous musician; while this is his album, his sextet is foregrounded significantly to the extent that it feels like a true ensemble rather than just a keyboardist and some hired guns. Lasky’s joined by Pete Billington on fretless and electric bass; Luca Boscagin on acoustic and fretless guitars; Sophie Alloway on drums; Kuljit Bhamra on tabla; Fergus Gerrand on percussion; and Philip Achille on harmonica.

The mastering and mixing by Nick Pugh is very well done – the sound is clear, no instrument dominates and it has a fresh feeling, hearteningly pure and electronics-free. The ten tracks on offer provide a variety of moods and tempos. No track stands out as a "wow" moment; but then again, the collection sits well together.

Opener Dancing in the Rain offers a refreshing ozone boost of well put-together chords and group playing, and invigorates the listener before things cool down – Lasky’s notes state he wrote the album to create moments of tension, then release – with second track She Said, with the louche fretless bass, tabla and lazy harmonica giving it a lounge-y, Sunday afternoon sort of feel.

Mountain Spirit starts with intense tabla hinting at the Himalayas, over which Lasky’s piano and Boscagin’s guitar combine simply, but well. This track has a strong middle section which whips the listener around 270 degrees with a sort of bhangra/techno vibe that doubles the tempo and adds some spice to a tune that lumbers a little. This time, it’s release then tension.

With Nightrider, the simplest of bass lines provides the most solid of foundations. Lasky’s playing is not overly dramatic on much of this album, but his solo is well wrought: it moves up and down, runs soft then hard, and here and there little triplets generate a propulsive stutter. The intriguing guitar voicing by Boscagin is very spacey and angular, and provides a great counterpoint.

Of the other tracks, Mendocino conjures up a slight West Coast groove and Herbie Hancock-like riffs by Lasky. Strange as it may seem, the standout sound on this is Gerrand’s wood block, which shoots through like a peppermint mouthwash and draws in the ear.

The opening bass chords on Chasing Shadows are discordant and create a feeling sense of the chase, with the pace picking up as the tune progresses. It contains the albums strongest keyboard solo, almost guitar like, that provides real edge and an unusual tone. Billginton’s cauliflower steak of a bass solo is terrifically meaty while Alloway’s drumming here is economical but just what the track needs. Her solo is not bombastic, but just the right side of show-off-y, a palate cleanser.

Last track New Day was a little disappointing, a vanilla track. It’s inoffensive, but I found little to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. However, it builds up periodic heads of steam, even if ultimately it ends on a lighter-than-air note.

That aside, this is a competent and, at times thrilling album. Despite it being his album, it’s the strength of Lasky’s co-musicians that makes this a good to very good album. He clearly walked the full length of the counter before choosing his creative partners.

The only downside of this album is the cover design, which is grey and uninspiring and seems to have little connection to the title or hint at what’s inside. However, it’s a small gripe on an otherwise strong showing. Take a moment to check it out.

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