Album Feature: Natty Reeves: Our Time

‘Blurring boundaries and harnessing an unbounded quality of musicianship, it continuously delights our ear drums.’

Intro to Natty Reeves
Delivering his debut single ‘Paris’ in 2017, and his first album ‘Conditional’ two years later, Natty Reeves now releases his 7 track follow up ‘Our Time’. 
Collaborating with Marnix de Haus (Keys), Matt Wilde (Keys), Jackson Mathod (Trumpet & Flugelhorn), Charlie Allen (Guitar), Poppy Daniels (Trumpet), and Ben Vize (Winds), the album seeks to blur jazz boundaries, harness an unbounded quality of musicianship, and take us on sonic journey that continually delights our ear drums. And that’s exactly what it does. Read more at: Behind the Music: Interview with Natty Reeves.

Album Feature
Opening with the first of three pre-released tracks, ‘5:23am’ instantly captures the atmosphere we are to savour across the next 25 minutes. The interlocking nature of each rhythmic element makes the sound feel complete, the gentleness of soft rain and warming reverb relaxes you. It could be said that this is a track of understated beauty, and with mid-pitched bass motifs sitting among affectionately played piano (Marnix de Haus) it is indeed that. However, it goes much deeper.

Its evolving nature is one that relies on the near-simplicity of parts blending to become something much more complex. There is a musical tenderness, nay a romanticism about how both piano and guitar content shifts between melodic and chordal settings. Contrastingly, the way in which brushed cymbals and percussive accents push through brings an inference of energy, and a sense of purpose – one that perhaps nods to Natty’s approach of now being the time to take life by the reins. Above all though, it affirms just how glorious this album is to be.

Heading into Track 2, ‘John Cena’ sees the sophistication that we’ve experienced in the opener retained, while the overall sound that greets us is strikingly different. However, as Natty explains, the musical journey that we are about to go on is one he didn’t really expect either.

“I was pretty surprised by the way it [John Cena] turned out,” says Natty, “I didn’t think this album would include searing 80s style synths paired with subtle Spanish guitar playing, but I think it turned out to be one of my favourites!” And one of mine too.

While this may be an unlikely combination, it very much reflects Natty going with the flow on this release and returning to his roots. Don’t expect full-on experimentation though as a true sense of direction without any hint of predictability is what’s being offered here. Like the delicate way in which ‘5:23am’ transforms, the musical developments here are at a level where you question nothing. Those semi cross-cultural, cross-genre influences blend as one causing you to completely buy into a sonic combination that on manuscript perhaps shouldn’t work.

The electric guitar centred melodies filled with pitch bends swoon early on. Acoustic picks make their presence known shortly after. Transitioning through, sustain pedal enhanced harmonic progressions bring added beauty while a multitude of hypnotising electronic motifs sit in the background. Then of course, there are those aforementioned synth melodies, which, in heading skyward above an infectious groove of syncopated jazz organ and directive percussion guide us to the most natural sounding of closing statements. Oh it really is a delightful listen, and as we continue through it is very much musical delights that continually greet us.

Somewhat retaining those cultural influences heard just now, follow up track ‘United Untied’ initially nods to further Spanish influence via its delicate strumming patterns, while atmospheric percussion nods to the opener. Combined together with distant melodies and complex drumming patterns it does indeed make for a relaxed, gentle, yet determined sound. And one that truly takes you away from your woes.

Seeking to take us further away though, acoustic melodies oozing with expression, preciseness, and passion bring Flamenco-esque tendencies while a gorgeous harmon muted trumpet solo takes us down a New York backstreet. Expanding fully in the second half, these extended improvisations from Jackson Mathod are both an absolute joy to experience and provide a masterclass in upper brass technique.

What you find yourself registering the most here though aren’t the tonally sequential developments, nor the bird like freedom that infuses the melodies, nor the somewhat galactically-tinted ending. All three are, of course, beyond successful. Instead, it’s the diversity of sound that you are experiencing. Sure there are sonic similarities – which you expect all great releases to have – but delivering music that can both calmly wash over you while keeping your ears pricked is a touch of class.

Speaking about how this balance of interest and musical cohesion was achieved, Natty says, “As long as every track had a backbone of parts that I had played, I knew I would have enough consistency to tie the project together. I’ve been producing my own stuff for a while now and I definitely think that I’m settling into a certain production style; but I made sure I left enough room for the features to shine through and everyone did so great.”

It’s certainly fair to say that that approach of everyone being highlighted in the best possible way has already ensured these collaborative tracks sound as one. However, with further musicians emerging as we head through ‘Lilac’ the quality of collaborators the on board for this project only shines more brightly.

“The most exciting part of creating this project was without a doubt working with incredible musicians.” Natty Reeves

Here, with each motif bouncing off the next you garner a true sense of the compositional approach to this release, and those differences to Natty’s debut. Interlocking with each other, the nuances within every component of the drum kit backing ensures a diversity of rhythmical interest, while contrasting instrumental fragments ensure relaxation is induced. Unlike the previous tracks though, a clearer sense of structure reveals itself with these introductory elements alternating with virtuosic solos.

There is, without doubt a late night vibe to the track, and even when the distinct change of mood occurs in the latter parts it never wavers from this. In fact, with us further experiencing Jackson Mathod’s musical prowess as well as that of guitarist Charlie Allen, this atmosphere becomes even more the case. However, while the creation of moments like this would be impressive enough if down to Natty’s musicianship alone, with those notable instrumentalists truly understanding their craft, you can never tell where the moments of collaborative composition occur.

“The input from others differed from track to track,” says Natty, “For some I just let them shred on a track I had already made, others wrote riffs, and others had suggestions on how to take the track further. I was open to any suggestions they had throughout the process though as I wanted them to be as involved as possible. I feel very lucky to work with them all and they all excel at their instruments which really pushed me to play as best I could, and write the best parts I could. I also learned a lot throughout the process.”

Enabling us to further enjoy the sonic preciseness omnipresent on ‘Our Time’, and taking us back to the centre of Natty’s musicality, the opening of ‘From Russia With Love’ instantly engages. Delivering skilful production, the beat-keeping nature of rim-shots and delicate high-hat control can be experienced to the full. Likewise, as each complementary motif – from guitar, bass, and synth – slots into place, the appropriate atmosphere for what is to come emerges. Furthermore, in balancing musical lightness and darkness, the effect-laden texture is indeed the perfect backing for the most expansive of guitar solos on the album.

Filled with a sea of intricacies and heading way up the fretboard, there is a haunting and almost villain-esque quality to what you are hearing. Deliberate or not, these are a wonderful nod to the track’s cinematic cousin. Working in just as wonderful a way though, the second half transforms into a beautifully sparse atmosphere where echoes fill the empty space rather than musical material. Then, re-injecting the sound with deep textures, the energy of early on reappears underneath some of the most natural guitar playing you may have ever heard. Sure I may have loved ‘John Cena’, but in these moments something extra special is going on.

Highlighting once more the way that everything works as one, penultimate track ‘Snakes In The Grass’, begins with a mix of soft melodies, hand-clap centred bossa-nova-esque rhythms, and hiss emulating harmon muted flutters. Generating the most gorgeous sense of storytelling, it’s a sound that immediately fills your mind with apt imagery. Then, picking up on those early motifs we start to experience the gorgeous musicality of trumpeter Poppy Daniels.

Demonstrating a complete understanding of her placement within the sound, after working among the texture she takes centre stage. Soaring above the cross-rhythmical, interest-filled backing, it’s an improvisatory melody that keeps you guessing. However, it’s a solo that’s never about trying to cram in as many notes as possible. Instead, it’s about allowing other features, such as delicate bass lines to come through at the right times. It’s about knowing how to interact with her musical surroundings. Essentially it’s about performing as a true musician rather than simply being a player. For that alone, it’s no wonder that Natty wanted to have her involved, and with the sound of closing track the same can be said for Ben Vize.

Ensuring that ‘Our Time’ is brought to the calmest and most sophisticated of conclusions, ‘Checkout’ carries an outro-esque quality that aims to soothe. The  initial sound is vampish, underscore like even, with jangly chords guiding modulations, Ben’s flute and sub-tone sax countermelodies whispering, and percussion providing gentle momentum. But don’t be fooled by any of this as, like so many other points in the album, a showcase improvisation is about to arrive.

Projecting above the chilled, sway inducing accompaniment – of which Ben also features on clarinet – his sax-centred wizardry makes its presence fully known. Rhythmically altering fragments one moment, generating melodic sequences the next it’s exactly how a solo should be. Contained within is a true sense of fun, the expression carries a true sense of freedom, and above all, there is a real sense of the musicians involved living in the moment. Which, given this was the exact reason Natty wanted to create the album, makes it also the most perfect way to end it.

‘Our Time’, written, performed and produced by Natty Reeves is out everywhere now.

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