I rarely feel at home with an album on first listening but this album, Travis’ first since his 2007 ‘Double Talk’, captured me from the first moments of ‘Fire Mountain’ – not because it was easy or common but because the strength of the playing and the quality of the compositions was evident at first listen. Subsequent listens have taken me further and deeper into this wonderful album and the rush is still there after many runs through.
Travis has been around for many years as a bandleader, solo performer, member of Soft Machine Legacy, part of Travis & Fripp – with Robert Fripp – and in 2007 he recorded ‘Double Talk’ with guitarist Mike Outram and keyboards from Pete Whittaker. And they are both here, along with drummer Nic France in band form.
The music sits in Jazz at its core but there is a deep sense of the seventies progressive jazz scene in the music. Opener ‘Fire Mountain’ has the darkness of Ian Carr’s Nucleus with Travis wailing on tenor sax but Outram’s guitar takes the sense of exploration further and with Whittaker’s organ grounding the music the whole coalesces.
Travis takes to the flute for the opening of the title track and as the track progresses the sound moves from airy and hopeful through to darker and more investigatory and finally into free blowing – if you like, tentative steps leading to confident and then completely wild. This is the sound of a great band with a powerful leader taking their music in their own direction without commercial or fashion considerations and gaining immensely in the process.
‘Smokin’ at Klooks’ shows that they can rein it in although the intensity is still there in a track that could have been very early Fleetwood Mac with Mike Outram’s guitar playing a beautiful line leading to a flute solo.
The only track here not written by Theo Travis is Robert Wyatt & Phillip Catherine’s haunting and lovely ‘Maryan’ and Nic France delivers a sensitive and sympathetic drum backing to Travis’ flute and Pete Whittaker’s Hammond.
Of all the music on offer here I would have to put ‘A Place In The Queue’ as the track I’ve enjoyed the most – the band working as a unit, backing each other and moving effortlessly from instrument to instrument, growing into a whole and developing a dark intensity. It reminds me very much – in structure rather than sound – of the Canterbury bands like Caravan or Egg with their long pieces that develop and pull the listener deeper into the collective mind of the band.
The closer, ‘The Call’, is a whispered plea and a gentle drift with Travis tenor sax seemingly wandering in search of something ‘out there’.
This is a great album and an important one. It comes at a time when less and less music of real worth is hitting the mainstream and it delivers music on many, many levels so that the ride through the album leaves the listener breathless but satisfied. I so want to see this live.