‘From freedom-filled power to trance-inducing bohemia, it’s an absolute masterpiece of a track.’
Intro to Pete Josef
Having already had huge success with his debut album, ‘Colour’ Pete Josef returns five years later with what is simply an absolute masterpiece of a release. A producer and multi-instrumentalist in his own right, ‘I Rise With The Birds’ sees Pete joined once again by a whole host of musicians and vocalists from all areas of the musical spectrum. And that spectrum is on display right from the first moment of ‘Night Eyes’ to the final millisecond of ‘This Sun’. Taking us on a tour of life’s ups and down, it is without doubt a journey of personally lyrical proportions. But within each track we are able to go on our own journey too. The previously released ‘Lavender’, with its swathes of beauty, encourages much reflection while the joyous energy of ‘I Must Be In Love’ encourages you to dance about like you have newly fallen for your soulmate. In short ‘I Rise With The Birds’ quite possibly the best album I have heard all year, or possibly, the best Listen to Discover has ever had the joy to experience!
From the moment you hear the warmth offered by gospel-esque vocal harmonies, you are filled with a real sense of anticipation and combined with the delicacy of electric guitar, you truly feel like Giants is going to be six minutes of musical magic. Each setting up the first of many incredible motifs, they are further joined by horns, dominant deep bass and resonating vibraphone tones. It’s completely glorious and having quickly formed into such an involved and polyphonically centred sound, you are left in no doubt of the prowess of Pete Josef. It’s worth noting of course that this was actually the first taster we had of the album, with it being released as a single earlier in the year, but that somehow makes it feel even more special.
Having already got a point where there is so much going on sonically that you can barely keep up, the initial emergence of true vocal phrases sees the textural elements pulled back. Seamlessly guiding our attention away from the instrumental dominance of the extended but impeccable introduction, the lyric ‘Some of us have to move before we all can stand tall’ soars into our ears beautifully. Inferring multiple messages, there is, within just one sentence as much to consider as the surroundings it is in. Containing world influenced percussive elements, as well more western sounding guitar grooves, it’s a subtle, but showcase moment that musically touches on Pete’s exploration of African and Latin American music. Equally, on theme of familiarity, you soon realise exactly what the importance of those aforementioned instrumental motifs were.
Taking in each phrase as it develops through the recurring lyricism, you notice that though the melodic setting is new, it has actually already been in existence. Musically foreshadowing what was to follow, every part of the vocals we are now experiencing was set up for us without us having any idea. A very much underused compositional technique in new music, rather than those earlier motifs simply repeating, the exploration of them becomes as key as the fragments themselves. There are though, of course, brand new ideas in the luxurious atmosphere that we are experiencing. Not least the effortlessly ear wormy, melodic synth hooks that link between the two vocal sections.
With the vocals previously taking centre stage, with the re-appearance of surging horns you know that this time round they will be in much more dominating setting. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Sure the lyricism is initially the same, as are some of the instrumental elements, but the accompaniment becomes something so complex and so phenomenal that it matters not one bit. Increasingly pushing to the fore, dirty brass lines provide a wealth of harmonic and melodic interest in an atmosphere that is already enough to contend with. Alone, they have such life and energy. But among everything else this is only heightened. However, the writing here is about even more than just what these elements bring.
Highlighting yet more compositional delights, in passing phrases across the cacophony, we hear a multitude of genuinely genius moments. Sitting under everything, the bass lines bounce effortlessly ensuring there is no lack of groove. However, while in the main you experience these in an almost unconscious manner, when they steal the phrase ending from the horns, you become so conscious of them that it’s hard to contain your excitement. Though as if this wasn’t enough, what follows takes this technique into a whole new dimension.
Moving seamlessly into yet more luscious musicality, providing a break from the harmonically led vocals to this point, they briefly become solo. Wonderfully contrasting with the deep warmth brought prior, regular guest vocalist Marie Lister takes the lead with a vocal as smooth as silk and as nuanced as you could wish for. Carrying multiple inflections – not least the opening ‘ooo’ phrase – her tone is one that wraps every moment of lyricism in a soft, intent-filled, freedom-edged package. In fact, it also only because Marie possess this style of vocal that it easily rises above the ever-developing accompaniment while making everything work so beautifully as one.
Returning once more to put harmonies front and centre, having passed through these solo moments we hear much softer lyricism than to this point. Changing tack from the power offered by the title centred phrases, while the groove remains much the same, the setting of ‘rise to see the day’ feels hypnotic and trance-inducing. To achieve this, while not losing any sense of energy is simply stunning. But the affect it has on you is even more so. Juxtaposing intent with relaxation, you can choose which path to follow. And depending on which you choose, your experience will be very different. However, if you head down both at the same time, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into your bohemian robes and joined the cast of Hair!
Taking the theme of experiential transportation a stage further, ensuring that we don’t remain zoned-out for too long, we soon find ourselves being awoken via an onslaught of musicality. Like a hypnotist who has, after trying a few times, realised clicking their fingers won’t quite do the job, power returns to thrust us into a complex and liberating musical world. Taking on a brand new form, the cross-rhythmic percussive energy that has been apparent, but distant until now surges irresistibly. Chordal guitar teams up with bass lines in an effort to bring some form of control. Pleasingly they fail to. And dominating the whole sound is the most insane bari-sax solo I’ve ever experienced. Oh and lets not forget the fighting filthy brass or the jazz-fuelled trumpet fanfares! It is without question absolute chaos. But my god it works phenomenally well.
With Pete having showcased just how much he truly understands what makes incredible music, before the polyphony really does become too much, he brings order in the most wonderful fashion. Here, making us rather more grounded than the musical high we have just been on, we experience a succession of fragmented, instrumentally set lines. These phrases though – as you may have guessed – serve not only as a link to the closing vocals, but actually state what we are about to hear. Interweaving with each other and demanding our attention, every instrument, hook and motif has a reason for being there. Equally, with the vocals being so wonderfully harmonised, on the recurring closing statement of ‘Hit the ground and change the mindset’ we are left in no doubt that Pete is on a mission to change our mindset of what we expect from new music.