(22a Records 22a036. Review by Graham Spry)
The intriguing title of the new album by Tenderlonious (Ed Cawthorne) is Quarantena which means ‘quarantine’ in Italian, but also refers to the period of 40 days and 40 nights that a ship was isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic. This meaning is reinforced by the excellent and unsettling illustration by Theo Ackroyd on the album cover of a mediaeval plague doctor wearing a mask with a bird-like beak that was used at that time as protection against airborne pestilence. This image also evokes the disconcerting and somehow unworldly tone of most of the music contained within.
Tenderlonious has taken the unsolicited opportunity provided by the COVID-19 pandemic not only to write new songs, but to record and release them as an album. In this endeavour, Tenderlonious has the advantage over most other musicians not only of being a multi-instrumentalist and composer but also of being a producer and record label owner. But what makes this album especially interesting is that it is an explicit response to the crisis we are all enduring which is the more resonant in that we don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight.
Tenderlonious has an arsenal of studio equipment at his command including a collection of synths and drum machines that are used to great effect on many of the album’s tracks to conjure an eery sci-fi feel. This is most apparent on the opening tracks on either side of the vinyl record: 1984 (Chapter One) and Total Recall. Both are inspired by dystopian fiction and have an aptly chilling ambience, especially the former where bland industrial output statistics are recited as a kind of stupefying background mantra (as they are in George Orwell’s novel). Synths are also the prominent instruments on the title track, Quarantena, and Falkor’s Flight, which is inspired by the children’s fantasy film, The NeverEnding Story.
The two tracks that close the first side, Lockdown Boogie and Covid Blues, are the jazziest songs on the album. Although they are both danceable, the sampled sound of gathering thunder at the end of Covid Blues dismisses any notion that the current crisis the titles explicitly reference is something to celebrate.
Tenderlonious has cited Yusef Lateef as a major influence and this is evident in Rocco’s Raga (inspired by Tenderlonious’ recent project Tender in Lahore) where flute and marimba overlay the electronic percussive beat. Flute is also prominent in Birds of Paradise where samples of jungle birdsong accompany a down-tempo beat that could be used to wind down a DJ set.
For those whose interest in Tenderlonious is primarily oriented towards the dancefloor, the tracks Moments Notice and MaskUP/GloveUP on the second side of the record have elements of house and funk. The album finishes on a positive note with the mostly beatless Utopia and the drum machine based Forty Nights, although any apparent optimism it may suggest is deliberately subverted by the swirling sounds of wind on a desolate plain that bookend the final track and on which the album ends.
All the instruments on the album, whether electronic or acoustic, are played by Tenderlonious with the exception of the trumpet on Quarantena and Covid Blues which is played by Nick Walters from Tenderlonious’ band, Ruby Rushton.
The variety of styles, influences, tempi and instrumentation on the album is reminiscent of recent album releases by musicians on or near the margins of jazz such as Djrum, Jeff Parker and Leon Vynehall who share with Tenderlonious a proficiency in a wide range of instruments and musical styles, have much to say, and are happy to use whatever tools are at their disposal to make a statement.
And at this moment there is probably no other record in jazz that strives so well to capture the surreal dystopian feel of the last few months. If we must live in a time that feels so much like a science fiction film, we surely must also have the music to accompany it.
Categories: CD review