Benjamin Croft – 10 Reasons To…
(33 Records 5020883337753. Review by Jeanie Barton)
The shimmering, mystical/nautical sounding acoustic/electro opening to Benjamin Croft’s 10 Reasons To… tells me immediately that I am not listening to a standard jazz piano record. The influences to this album are varied but it’s mostly inspired by sci-fi adventures; prominently Doctor Who. The Introduction to 100 Years at Sea features an excerpt of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The City in The Sea, read by the series’ veteran actor Peter Miles, who sadly recently passed away. It emerges from gliss, cymbals, violin and synths (a mini-Moog and Prophet 5) and prepares me for an interesting, nostalgic journey. The sonorous mix reminds me of the opening credits to some of the otherworldly cartoon series I enjoyed as a child; Wheeled Warriors, Cities of Gold, The Visionaries and others, although Ben writes in the sleeve that, aside from the time travelling Doctor, he was inspired at a young age by Weather Report and watching Rick Wakeman on TV (there are also nods to classical music plus references to the Latin/swing jazz of Dizzy Gillespie).
The ’70s-’80s jive runs deep though with bassist Henry Thomas employing an acoustic fretless bass as well as a Westone Thunder III. Benet McLean’s violin adds another dimension to the ensemble; his gypsy/sea shanty tone enhances the juxtaposition between the past/future themes – not unlike how the popular steampunk scene melds ancient and new. Tristan Mailliot gets his prog rock on at the drums too – I get the feeling all of these accomplished jazz players enjoy splashing a little further from their regular genre pool.
It’s hard to believe that One Million Years at Sea is just a duet between Ben and Tristan – a Roland Juno 60 joins the Moog and Prophet, so I imagine the set-up is stacked rather like a pipe organ and that Ben has many hands on the go, perhaps like that octopus fella in Pirates of the Caribbean?
The album is one of two halves – another series of recordings are intertwined; featuring Andy Davies on trumpet, Mario Castronari on bass and Saleem Raman on drums. Naturally, they sound impeccable and groovy together but the production is not as experimental and I found myself missing the synths once they were already established. No Oil for Sale (for Gustav Mahler) does offer me a Mellotron though.
The last track called For Future Past (for Allan Holdsworth) is performed by this second ensemble but with Henry on acoustic bass. It continually shifts harmonic gears and time signatures, showcasing the synchronicity of the ensemble – they are capable of seamlessly transitioning, so likely work together live often. The epic piece resolves with a powerful piano peddle centred over a rock groove feature, during which And Death Shall Have No Dominion by Dylan Thomas is read again by Peter Miles – it is extremely moving.
There are also tributes to Keith Emerson and Christopher Lee plus the cover art is by another Doctor Who contributor, cult artist Andrew Skilleter (this is also split into two halves; a dream-like galleon flying through space next to a War of the Worlds type landing module bobbing on an ocean, with a lady’s eyes peering hauntingly through the middle). Ben and his fellow musicians have taken a lot of risks here and have created something that really stands alone. I think it will become a collector’s item, so do get hold of a copy while you can!