‘Stunningly sophisticated and orchestrally cinematic, it beautifully encourages us to embrace our imperfections.’
Intro to Ambient Jazz Ensemble
Known for combining jazz, electronica and orchestral influences in his work, the latest album from Ambient Jazz Ensemble (aka Colin Baldry) sets to surpass any previous release. Always creating in his words ‘instrumental storytelling and cinematic journeys’ each individual track to date has truly delivered this while albums ‘Suite Shop’ (2014) and ‘AJE’ (2017) have transported the listener even further. In his new release ‘Aura’ though, the emphasis is on positivity, uplifting musicality and a continual sense of momentum. And this really does push through the experience of all 10 tracks. In the early moments, opener ‘Rise’ infers this through cross-rhythmical percussion while later tracks such as ‘The Wonder of it All’ and album closer ‘The Future Starts Now’ provide full-on tonal brightness. Then, sitting among all of this we have the ethic instrumental and vocal delights of ‘Break The Night With Silence’ and ‘A Velvet Revolution’ while featured track ‘Scars’ provides beautifully moving, message-centred reflectiveness. There truly is a phenomenal amount to enjoy. However, when you consider the vast experience Colin has across the industry, and the fact he is working with collective of showcase musicians, it’s little wonder it sounds as amazing as it does.
Instantly evocative, a mix of soft vocals, bass clarinet and sustained harmonic strings immediately generate a heartfelt and emotional sensation. Within each word, there is a message that truly resonates and set in the surroundings that they are, the connection is effortless. Modulating and expanding, each high and low pitched orchestral transition brings wondrous depth as it moves between the vocal phrases they sit either side of. In short it is truly beautiful. However, offering up purpose wider than it may first appear, in tonally shifting to link with the forthcoming lyrics of “darkness and light” the sense of lyrical, orchestral, melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements working as one is highlighted in a sublimely showcase way.
Adding to the atmosphere of what has been occurring in these opening moments, as the lyricism begins to gradually evolve, everything else does likewise. Remaining close to the initial phrases, the subtle alteration from “These scars, the tracks of a life” to “These scars, are the tracks of my tears” is delivered with an equally subtle change of projection. Containing mesmerising melisma and delicate vibrato, Donna Gardier brings real honesty while through the lyricism itself we are encouraged to embrace our own “scars”. It’s completely gorgeous and with the underlying textures growing so wonderfully into a warm, anticipatory-tinged sound it’s incredibly cinematic too.
Having served up a delicious blend of subtle orchestral influences to this point, the transformation into something even more musically appetising begins to occur. Beautifully dovetailing, the sustained harmonies fade in a way that feels incredibly natural while jazz influences make themselves known. Bringing momentum, cross-rhythmical drums ignite the sound and combined with melodic percussion motifs, delicately dancing piano and resonating double bass there is a real sense of renewed energy. Contrasting wonderfully with the sparseness of the opening, this polyphonic atmosphere is complete class. And yet it is to become even classier.
Never leaving the lyrical intentions of the track behind, above this new sound – and at times among it – the message continually strengthens. Enhanced by vocal word-painting and showcase inflections, as well as a multitude of call and response phrases and multi-tracked harmonies, each moment is a joy to behold. Equally, in bringing new meaning to the phrases “still I rise” and “in my beauty I still fly” each time we hear them, you connect differently. But don’t let your enjoyment of these cause you to miss out on other elements. In fact, rather than trying to focus your listening, here I would encourage you to experience it as auditory painting. One where the combination of musical brush strokes is more masterful than you can imagine.
Ensuring this blend of musicality is showcased throughout, when the title centred vocal phrases return, the mark-making warmth-filled horn motifs of earlier combine with the positive energy of now. Together it’s a sound that’s as subtle as it is stunningly beautiful. However, while the rhythmic and harmonic shifts remain as they were, set in such a contrasting way, they, like the resulting impact of the vocals, make you feel renewed. This said, in moving through a fragment led transition, we are taken to a place where self-reflection is much encouraged.
Feeling more intimate than anywhere else in the track, the balance of cinematic musicality alters to momentarily become just that: intimate. Set to only the accompaniment of plucked double bass and slow shifting distant harmonies, the most naturally played piano solo takes centre stage. Instrumentally generating a sense of hope-filled relaxation, this jazz trio-esque sound is touching and sophisticated in equal measure. Adding to this, while there is no presence of vocals, the impact of what we have heard already is such that here we digest the preceding lyricism while considering the fact “we are all human”. And soon this collective sense of understanding and realisation is to be beautifully reinforced.
Exiting the intimacy via a gentle resurgence of momentum, snare rolls and cymbal splashes bring back the percussive elements while ever-present distant harmonies remain. Working as one, the transitional return to previous textures is as seamless as can be. So much so that you barely realise it has occurred. However, on our attention being drawn to the lyricism the realisation occurs. Shifting from first person singular to plural on the phrase “here we are… with these scars we are human” the whole track develops a different sense of meaning. One that, with the soaring horns and strengthening atmospheric tendencies truly touches you right to the end.
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Listen to AJE on: Spotify
Find out more about Ambient Jazz Ensemble at: Behind the Music: Interview with Colin Baldry – Ambient Jazz Ensemble