Golden Age of Steam – Tomato Brain
(NOISE Records LTNO 13. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
The music of James Allsopp’s Golden Age of Steam has been described as ‘abstract electronica meets radical jazz’. This album, the group’s first since 2012, shows that its music has become both more electronic and more radical. The group has also increased in size with Alex Bonney on electronics and Ruth Goller on electric bass joining the original trio of James Allsopp on saxophone, Kit Downes on Hammond Organ and Tim Giles on drums.
On Bandcamp the main piece, Loftopus, appears either as one long track of just over 30 minutes or divided into six separate tracks. It makes much more sense to listen to it as one single track as this brings out the gradual build up of intensity in the music and its coherence. It is essentially a soundscape that passes through a series of episodes.
The Loftopus track begins eerily with a distant voice accompanied by electronics; Allsopp’s tenor saxophone comes in after about four minutes with a kind of drone. The interactions between the sax, electronics and drums gradually build up in intensity as the track proceeds; there is a kind of arc with the music rising to a climax and then winding down over the last few minutes. There are episodes with just electronics that lead into more intense passages with the sax and then with sax playing over the drums and finally interacting with the Hammond Organ.
The title track is much shorter and is based on a whimsical poem by Ivor Cutler about a man eating a cheese and tomato sandwich, who gradually becomes that sandwich with his brain a tomato and his legs the bread. The music continues the mood of the Loftopus track with the saxophone creating a triumphant, if slightly melancholy, vibe.
Some have described the music as ‘unsettling’; for my part I find it fascinating and absorbing. It is certainly representative of the creative UK scene and I would go as far as saying it is a great album.