Stuart McCallum Distilled Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Phrases resound with a shimmering vibration, underscored by sympathetic arrangements.

Martin Longley 2011

Manchester’s Stuart McCallum is already familiar as The Cinematic Orchestra’s longtime guitarist, but he has recently been cultivating a solo profile that lies even further inside the borders of jazz. This is his third album, apparently arrived at through a compositional technique of self-sampling previous works. In the end, its reality sounds nowhere near as radical as this method would suggest.

McCallum’s chosen sound possesses an orchestral character, an aura that spreads out to the governing sonic world of his compositions. His phrases resound with a shimmering, tiered vibration, underscored by the sympathetic arrangements of a sampled string section.

McCallum immediately imposes a wide-angle vista which remains throughout what sounds like a suite, or at the very least a would-be film soundtrack. This might be another way of observing that the pieces herein suffer from an incremental sonic uniformity.

The choral guitar hovers, layered into a string section of its own, reverberating like something from The Edge. Washes of colour pervade, but always with a sprightly drumming backbeat. McCallum’s signature sound is part jazz, part rock and part surf. This material doesn’t clutch, it caresses and enfolds. This might be to its disadvantage, as the 10 tracks sail ever onwards.

All instruments apart from Dave Walsh’s drums are at the service of the surge. McCallum’s palette embraces elements of the acoustic and the electric, but seems to hold the advantages of neither. Fokey Dokey is the ultimate in mountain stream music, but Vital Space follows with a rare active guitar solo. Lament for Levenshulme is the best tune, breaking into a skipping climax, where it concludes with bittersweet strings. For the final (title) track, an electronic frisson intrudes, these oscillations matched with tidal strings and another, less passive, guitar solo. The album isn’t quite reclined enough to follow the rules of ambient chill. Instead, it could simply be the imagined sound of Pat Metheny on Valium.

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