Tom Cawley’s career has encompassed everything from piano trios at the Blue Note to tours with Peter Gabriel – such is the proficiency and breadth of his musicianship that it’s impossible to predict what each new project will bring. Previous projects have variously shown his facility and versatility as a writer and a growing fascination with vintage keyboards, and this album ties these disparate threads together. The Ungainlies starts with a bold wash of analogue synths, an immediate Proustian trigger for anyone raised on mid-period Weather Report; with Fini Bearman’s wordless vocal setting us up for a typically virtuosic solo from the ubiquitous Lockrane, over a flexible rhythm section, we’re firmly in jazz-fusion territory, as defined in the adventurous 70s. Chris Higginbottom on drums gives the necessary back- beat punch and solidity, but his lightness of touch and sure sense of time give a genuinely jazzy openness, and the track builds to a dazzling coda. Jabulani has a contrastingly laid-back, bossa feel, with squelchy synth solos galore, Nutmeg’s distorted and ring-modulated Rhodes and pulsing rhythm evoke an earlier, freer version of Weather Report to thrilling effect – Rob Mullarkey excels and Higginbottom is on masterly polyrhythmic form. Left Peg has the makings of a yacht rock classic, sounding like a mutant Billy Joel theme over a deliciously laid back groove. Rabona has a clear ancestor in Black Market and captures the same uplifting, open spirit. Unashamedly retro, this album isn’t trying to break new ground, but succeeds due to the convincingly realised writing and the sheer excitement and vigour of the outstanding band.
Tom Cawley, keys; Gareth Lockrane, flutes; Fini Bearman, voice; Rob Mullarkey, bass; Chris Higginbottom, drums.