Archipelago are a North East trio fronted by multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman, and accompanied by bassist John Pope and drummer Christian Alderson. Archipelago are a band with innovative ideas and real creative potential – their music spans a huge range of influences, drawing upon the different individual musical backgrounds of each member. Echoes To The Sky is Archipelago’s newest release since 2017 – due for release on 25th June 2021, we were lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the album before its launch. Echoes To The Sky, a genre-defying album, features a similar set up to the band’s previous work, yet incorporates new elements such as synths and electronics, creating very new-world soundscapes. Creating contrasts between typical, traditional jazz playing and distorted, disorientating experimentalism, the trio are definitely one to watch in the northern jazz scene this year. In their own words, Echoes To The Sky is an album inspired by ‘transformation, loss and a sense of hopeful mystery’ – regardless of genre, this is a sentiment we can all connect with.
‘Waiting’ opens the album, with a sparseness in texture created by MacCalman’s vocals being accompanied only by bass and drums, without harmonic accompaniment. The texture of this piece typifies the trio set up, which allows for both intimacy and a sense of freedom which larger bands can struggle with. Irregularity in time signature and rhythm is also something which typifies the whole album, and ‘Waiting’ is no exception – the elliptical groove conveyed through many of the tracks gives the listener a sense of forward movement, yet also a pulling back at the same time. The way in which ‘Waiting’ and other tracks slowly progress into disorientating experimental moments which defy structure also reinforces this sense of progression, and yet confusion, loss and a pulling back. ‘Wake Up’, ‘Chemical’ and ‘Silhouette’ all feature these moments in which experimentalism takes over, and the band play with extended techniques, rubato time and seemingly random musical ideas. Although these moments can be challenging for the average listener, Archipelago incorporate their experimental ideas very cleverly, always cyclically returning to the original accessible melodies or ideas which opened the track.
‘the trio set up […] allows for both intimacy and a sense of freedom which larger bands can struggle with’
MacCalman’s melodies tie many of the tracks together – the strange but enticing melody on ‘Chemical’ is reinforced by the beauty of the melodies in ‘Gold’ and ‘Wine Dark Sea’. These tracks are really beautiful, especially the lamenting and yet optimistic melody of ‘Wine Dark Sea’. Representing the ballad of the album, this track may be the most moving on Archipelago’s musical journey; the wave-like sounds created by Pope and Alderson, complimented by the beautifully crafted sax tone from MacCalman, makes for a truly emotional piece. In the latter half of the track, the tenor sax begins to echo with added effects, yet this adds a whole new layer of meaning to the piece and the musical choices remain extremely tasteful. MacCalman’s clarinet melody on ‘Gold’ also reinforces this tasteful yet musically interesting line which the band tread carefully upon. The melody is wonderfully complimented by Pope’s head-nodding bass groove, accompanied by tight drum playing from Alderson.
‘Echoes To The Sky is an album inspired by ‘transformation, loss and a sense of hopeful mystery’
Finally, ‘Undercurrent’, ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Burn On’ represent the album’s more industrial electronic elements, featuring repetitive grooves and distortion. Each track’s title really represents the feelings which it conveys through the music, or the topics it wishes to explore – the band have perfectly described their sound through words. The sweetness of the clarinet solo on ‘Silhouette’ is brilliantly juxtaposed with distorted electric guitar, creating a sense of shadows and reflection which fits the piece’s title. The repetitive quality of ‘Undercurrent’ creates feelings of anticipation, movement, and something happening beneath the surface – the track’s titles are definitely thoughtful and provoking. ‘Burn On’ ends the album with a vocal track which is very moving, but in a different way to ‘Wine Dark Sea’. The melody is haunting, and the slow build from Pope and Alderson beneath MacCalman’s vocals singing ‘we can light a fire and watch it burn on’ creates a real sense of tension which engages the listener. The album ends with a slow fade out, leaving the electronics singing alone at the piece’s close.
‘Echoes To The Sky […] is difficult to pin down in terms of genre – but this is where its strength lies.’
Echoes To The Sky features many different styles, and is difficult to pin down in terms of genre – but this is where its strength lies. Oscillating between repetitive grooves and more disorientating experimentalism, the album’s tracks have something for every listener. MacCalman’s melodies, accompanied by the head-nodding grooves provided by Pope and Alderson, make for a really satisfying listen. ‘Wine Dark Sea’ and ‘Gold’ are stand out tracks, because of their beautifully tasteful musical ideas; yet, without sitting within the same album as ‘Chemical’, ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Undercurrent’, they wouldn’t have the same poignance. Each track provides something new to Archipelago’s output, and is essential to understanding the band’s sound and influences. We can’t wait for Echoes To The Sky to be released, so that everyone can enjoy the same experience we have.