Technically impressive fare from the trio, but sadly lacking in surprises.
Peter Marsh 2012-04-04
Tim Garland is a clever bloke; a saxophonist who can hold his own with Chick Corea or Bill Bruford, play Bach or write a concerto for the LSO as well as keeping a bunch of other projects on the go. Here he's returned to his longstanding Lighthouse Trio, now back (after several permutations) to the core of Garland, pianist Gwilym Simcock and percussionist Asaf Sirkis.
Garland's association with the prodigiously talented and much-praised Simcock goes back a long way and the pianist gets the lion's share of the writing credits here. Both share a broadly similar musical approach that's informed by a blend of fusion, folk and classical forms and the impressionism of the ECM crowd, while the formidable Sirkis seems at home in any environment.
Yet Lighthouse is a record that feels like a wasted opportunity. The trio format lends itself to intimate, conversational music, yet there's little of that here. The writing seems intent on cramming as many notes into the bar as possible, and the curiously airless, anodyne production sucks any dynamic or space from the proceedings (Sirkis' percussion seems to have suffered the most, sounding thin and ineffectual). The opening Space Junk (sadly not a cover of the Devo classic) was inspired by Simcock's recent collaboration with DJ Carl Cox and kicks off with a lovely spot of prepared piano. But before you've had much of a chance to savour this, the trio are digging into one of those spiralling note-packed melodies that, while impressive as a display of technique, are almost immediately forgettable.
And so it goes on. No-one appears to break a sweat, even when they're playing hemidemisemiquavers at 160bpm. Garland's burnished tone never cracks – you can't even hear him draw breath. The writing is too tight to allow the music to breathe much either. There's also little attempt to explore the potential of the slightly unusual instrumental combinations on offer. Nothing has made up for the absence of a bass instrument; it's almost like they recorded with one but accidentally erased it from the mix.
There's some respite in the more reflective material; Garland's One Morning and Simcock's closing Tawel Nawr are both quite lovely and hint at what could have been. Those of us who are attracted to instrumental virtuosity will probably love this record (and it's hard not to be impressed by it); but those of us who want a bit more (or less) from our listening, and maybe even a few surprises, should be looking elsewhere.