Matt Carmichael – Where Will The River Flow
(Porthole Music PM01. CD/Digital review by Fiona Mactaggart)
There’s a lot of water here in Scotland. We sometimes grumble about it, and about the rain in particular. However, 21-year-old tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael has used the idea of water, specifically in the form of Scottish rivers, as a theme that flows gently – and sometimes rapidly like a river in full spate – through his debut album, Where Will The River Flow.
Although he has yet to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Carmichael has already developed quite a profile and an impressive list of collaborations; he also reached the finals of BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020. His quartet, formed five years ago, consists of his contemporaries, award-winning Fergus McCreadie on piano, Ali Watson on bass and Tom Potter on drums. Like McCreadie, Carmichael creates music that feels highly personal, fusing an energetic yet sensitive modern jazz into a bedrock of Scottish traditional music.
Where Will The River Flow consists of nine original tunes. Carmichael has explained that each track signifies a place, person or memory for him. The name of the album reflects his feelings about embarking on a life in music. Its title track, at over 11 minutes, is the most varied and rich, with space for each member of the quartet to stretch out. Some appealing, colourful percussion sounds from Potter lead into McCreadie’s accelerating, trilling keys, with close support from Watson’s bass before Carmichael carries the melody back to slightly calmer waters and a peaceful end. Thunderingly good is the phrase that comes to mind.
The other complete cracker on this album is The Spey. Referencing the fastest-flowing river in Scotland, this track opens with a full-blooded charge from Carmichael, fleeing up and down the registers with McCreadie by his elbow. Slowing for a brief breather, the final super-charged half minute ends as abruptly as it all started. Wow.
Otherwise, this album is at a more unhurried pace, as in the lovingly rendered Dear Grandma with its simple, repetitive theme passed from sax to pizzicato bass, some pretty tintinnabulations evoking in this listener’s mind tinkling necklaces or earrings. Likewise, the simple Interlude slows the heart rate, with bass opening and low register drone, while the leisurely sax skims above, sometimes sinking below the note in a blues-feel languor.
In fact, all nine tracks are a pleasure to listen to – no mean feat for a debut – from mellifluous, mildly minimalist opening track with its terminal sax sigh, Sognsvann (referencing a Norwegian lake where Carmichael could relax during an Erasmus exchange trip) to final track Valley (Improvisation) with an inexorable crescendo leading to an extraordinarily quiet coda.
Matt Carmichael has combined jazz with Scottish traditional music on Where Will The River Flow in a highly successful way. This is not just an impressive debut album, it is one in which an irresistible sincerity and honesty shine through.
Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh and writes about music on Scottishjazzspace.co.ukWhere Will The River Flow will be released on 12 March 2021, on CD/Digital, by Porthole Music.LINK: Matt Carmichael on Bandcamp