The talented British pianist and composer Greg Foat is back. After wooing fans with his début album back in 2011, Mr Foat immediately returned to the studio to write the follow-up. Having initially heard glimpses of the new material when his band played live at The Jazz Meet back in March, we can now happily report that the full album officially dropped this week and can be purchased via your local retailer (or direct from the Jazzman Records website). So just how do you follow an album that was labelled an instant classic in some quarters (yes, including us!) and featured in many year-end lists as well as being named one of the best jazz albums of 2011 at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards? Well it seems Greg knows the answer.
Speaking about the project back in March, Greg said that “It is pretty special, it is like a companion album to ‘Dark Is The Sun’, with the same musicians, but with more advanced arrangements and a lot of tape echo”. As such, ‘Girl and Robot with Flowers’ (named after the Brian Aldiss penned science fiction book of the same name) follows swiftly on the heels of its critically acclaimed predecessor and feels almost like the perfect follow-up. Here Greg unleashes another exemplary set of songs that effortlessly straddle the new age jazz that we’ve come to expect from the band and the vintage film soundtracks that so clearly inspire the man himself. Presented once again by the modern crate diggers’ label of choice Jazzman Records, on first listen the album promises yet another flight far into the cosmos.
Recorded using high quality vintage equipment and captured direct to tape in Gothenburg in Sweden at Mattias Glava’s Kungalv Studio (reputed to be one of the finest analogue studios in the world), the music is completely instrumental (yes, no Swedish choir this time around!) and the soundscapes created initially seem so lush. Piano lines float alongside loping drums and warm bass giving an almost dream like feel to proceedings. But as you delve deeper, the intricacies within each composition soon become clear. The album opens with the first in a six-part suite of the title track, which springs to life after a brief and atmospheric intro and pairs Tony Coote’s pulsating drum beat with Greg’s delicate playing and an excellent turn on the harmonica by Phillip Achille. If the theme of the album were not so otherworldly (just look at that artwork!), you could almost imagine the E-type winding its way through the hills of the French Rivera. It’s music for the opening sequence of the next Bond movie (not to cheapen the music!) without the foghorn diva. ‘Have Spacesuit Will Travel’ inversely is more introspective, the tape delay producing shimmering echoes from the electric piano and the tempo slowing to a pedestrian shuffle. Both of tracks form the backbone of the album, their melodies revisited many times throughout the 57 minute playing time as the musicians use a wide array of instruments (Greg actually plays both acoustic and electric piano, Hammond, synthesizers and vibraphone on this record) to evoke a variety of moods.
Rob Mach (saxophones and clarinet) and Trevor Walker (flugelhorn) reprise their roles from the previous album, providing brilliant support to the pianist on the more up-tempo versions of the title track while elsewhere, the talents of Manchester trumpeter Matthew Halsall are called upon to provide the exquisite trumpet work on what proves to be one of the early highlights. Greg recalls “Matt has a very special sound and sensitive approach to playing which I really like, we recorded a track late one night called ‘For A Breath I Tarry’ and I am very proud of it.” It’s a deep and almost spiritual piece of music that combines both musicians’ styles well, a stunning duet from two leading lights of the current British jazz scene. ‘Blues for Lila’ simply needs to be heard. Stripping everything back to just the bluesy sound of the acoustic piano which is accompanied by sparse brushwork on the drums and an emotive double bass, the song in all its honesty has an effervescent beauty about it.
In reality, the album is much more than a classic jazz album. Just like its forerunner, it is a product of the blending of many musical influences. Within the twelve tracks, you’ll find elements of late 60’s and 70’s library music (‘Clear Skies Select Stick’), heady progressive rock and fusion experimentation (‘Cast Adrift’), and of course, the exotic film soundtracks that really underpin all of Greg’s work and bring his style all into its own. If you’re looking for something a little different from your average modern-day jazz album, then this should certainly make your festive gift list. Accomplished and at times deeply emotive, it matches, if not surpasses, Greg’s promising début and should push the musician further into the higher tiers of the musical stratosphere. Don’t be left behind!
1. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 1)
2. Have Spacesuit will Travel (Part 1)
3. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 2)
4. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 3)
5. For a Breath I Tarry (featuring Matthew Halsall)
6. Cast Adrift
7. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 4)
8. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 5)
9. Have Spacesuit will Travel (Part 2)
10. Clear Skies Select Stick
11. Blues for Lila
12. Girl and Robot with Flowers (Part 6)
Words: Rob Coley (@robcoley)