Do you know that feeling of elation when you see your favorite recording artists live?! Somehow, combining the visual with the sonic is a feast for the senses, allowing a deeper immersion into the music. In person, it’s more vibrant, clever, and passionate - like an IMAX 3D Technicolor extravaganza. The extensive layering of instruments and the lively interplay between artists enhances the music. Improvisation is paramount, where some of the greatest playing happens in the heat of the moment.
That’s what happened the first time I saw Acoustic Alchemy live. Everyone on stage was having such a good time and played their hearts out for an enthusiastic audience. There were some unbelievable moments – infectious camaraderie, terrific song writing, and great playing, all for the sake of making the best sounding music ever.
When I heard This Way, I was thrilled! Here is a recording that has all the elements of Acoustic Alchemy’s live performance. It’s evident that Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale are having a really good time playing. Certainly, they are masters of their instruments, both nylon and steel-string acoustic guitars, as well as electric guitar. They are in fine form, bringing some of their best playing on every track. It’s no wonder I came away with a “live performance” feel; several of the tracks are recorded with Acoustic Alchemy’s touring band and long time friends – Terry Disley (piano), Snake Davis (sax), Fred White (keys and trumpet), Julian Crampton (bass) and Greg Grainger (drums, vocals). The album hosts a surprising number of guests such, as Rick Braun, Jeff Kashiwa, Neil Cowley from Down To The Bone, Dennis Rollins from British ska band The Specials, and Acoustic Alchemy’s long time collaborators Bert Smaak (AA’s original drummer), Mike Herting (piano), and Paul Harriman (bass). It is a true jazz experience, lush with sumptuous solos. What’s most exhilarating about This Way is the interplay and extemporizing amongst the musicians, bringing with it a fresh, relaxed inventiveness.
Worth noting, throughout the album, the brass arrangements were done by Miles Gilderdale. Who knew?! Turns out he has been formally trained as an arranger. Being a big fan of James Brown, his brass arrangements lean to old school soul, which complement the Acoustic Alchemy sound brilliantly.
The first track is called “Love Is All There Is.” It’s relaxed, almost dreamy, cleansing the palate and opening us up for the rest of the album’s treasures. Carmichael’s mellow acoustic guitar and Gilderdale’s penetrating steel-string and electric guitars are complemented by that soulful horn hook. Davis’ soaring alto sax solo is followed by Cowley who is magnificent on Wurlitzer and piano.
“Ernie” takes us to a favorite place, exotic Latin jazz done up as only Acoustic Alchemy can. Along with dazzling guitars, standout solos come from Disley on piano, Kashiwa on sax, Kevin Robinson on trumpet, and Rollins on trombone. Rounding out the hot horn section is White (trumpet) and Davis (alto sax). I wager you’ll be hearing “Ernie” on the radio a lot this summer.
Trumpet and flugelhorn solos from the brass section deliciously accent “Who Knows,” an easy going yet lush ensemble piece. “Slampop” delivers on its title with a driving groove, melodic acoustic and searing electric guitars, plus top notch drumming from Smaak and piano work from Herting.
Mixed by legendary Steve Hodge (Usher, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige), “Out of Nowhere” features a guitar duet from Carmichael on nylon string and Gilderdale on steel string. The beautiful, plaintive melody is backed by guitar harmony and percussion. Following is the title track “This Way.” Reminiscent of the late 80s new age sensibility, its nostalgic melody is layered with glorious guitar harmonies and ambient synth which builds to a grand crescendo, then brings us back down gently.
Recorded in one take, “Tied Up With String” is intense jazz groove and hip swing woven with premium playing, especially from Herting on piano, John Goldsby on bass, Smaak on some very compelling percussion and that dynamic horn section of White and Davis.
Growing up, Carmichael and Gilderdale were influenced by Eastern rock, as evidenced in “Only in My Dreams.” Chill with the cool interplay of guitars and Cowley on Wurlitzer and piano.
The Latin track “Carlos The King” pays homage to the great Santana. Gilderdale’s electric guitar and Carmichael’s acoustic live up to the challenge with spot on performances. Spicing up the track are Braun’s spectacular flugelhorn improvisation, Cowley’s inventive piano, and Grainger’s red-hot percussion.
A British straight ahead jam, “Egg,” is cookin’! It’s layered with smokin’ guitars, Davis’ blazing baritone sax, and a killer horn section. Cowley’s organ solo brings back jazz fusion at its finest. Closing out the album is the distinctive track mixed by Hodge, “Now I’m On My Way,” with its bona fide neo-soul vibe.
Miss out on This Way? No way!
This Way is available June 5th. Look for Acoustic Alchemy on tour and check out their website http://www.acoustic-alchemy.net
- Anne Aufderheide