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Acoustic Alchemy

This Way

(BlueNote; US: 5 Jun 2007; UK: 14 May 2007)

The point of this band’s name isn’t that their music is acoustic (which it isn’t), but that at the centre of their electrically powered (as in guitar) and electronically worked or generated sound, there have usually been a pair of acoustic guitars. Here, it seems there is at times only the one acoustic guitar, with Miles Gilderdale switching to electric on some numbers . The notes sent to reviewers quote Gilderdale’s colleague Greg Carmichael very carelessly (not Mr. Carmichael’s fault) to the effect that “Our fans might be surprised to hear Miles play so much electric guitar, but in essence that’s what he is by trade.”


Mr. Gilderdale is a professional electric guitar?


Blue Note Records, whose long history as an independent company had nothing to do with the sort of thing involved here—taking up a (their phrase) pop-jazz band in collaboration with another label and daring anybody to deny that there is some jazz on their latest album—seem now as a feather in the EMI wing remarkably interested to relate the history of this band on their blurb: a very lengthy CV.


Initially, Gilderdale’s place was filled by, says the blurb, “a guitarist called Simon James.” This is surely unpleasantly patronising. It makes Mr. James sound rather disposable. I’d have thought at least a man called Simon James, who may be around deserving an apology for this, since he was presumably no less real than Miles Gilderdale’s other predecessor, the late, lamented Nick Webb.


Acoustic Alchemy are hardly flattered by the other statement in the blurb that “Acoustic Alchemy’s rich legacy is based on the extraordinary airplay, sales and critical recognition given the many…recordings.” One would have hoped that their success and recognition might have been seen as dependent on the quality of their music, rather than of the work of colleagues and predecessors of the blurbists happy to claim so much for their own fellow-professionals.


And why print Carmichael’s quote to the effect: “This Way [has] got so much more playing on it than we’ve done before.” While this does bring to mind the departed impresario whose most lucrative charges’ live gigs involved speakers wired up to equipment backstage, the quote presumably means that the guitarists got to make instrumental contributions of a more creative than routine sort.


For all of which the music is what might be called (present reviewer’s coinage) “smoosion”, beginning with a pastiche soul number and including a tribute to the estimable Ernest Ranglin, less lively than that Jamaican guitarist’s fairly comparable set not so long back with Monty Alexander and other fellow-Jamaicans. It was nice, though, to see the name of Dennis Rollins guesting on trombone, playing well if not with the liveliness I’ve heard elsewhere.


A reference to the “wild percussion” of Greg Grainger on “Carlos the King” does imply the responses of a douce maiden aunt who’d have been shocked by Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich or Elvin Jones. The “powerful flugelhorn improvisation” by Rick Braun is impressive without being any especially powerful flugelhorn improvisation. A lot of work would seem to have gone into trying to create excitement without the music, though lively, ever being very much more than tame and carefully crafted and highly professional, and no doubt welcome to fans whose noses might wrinkle if you told them their admiration was founded on the work of PR professionals.

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Tagged as: acoustic alchemy
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