Album reviews

Alabaster DePlume – ‘GOLD’

Alabaster DePlume – GOLD
(International Anthem– IARC0050. Review by Graham Spry)

When the album To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 was released in early 2020 on Chicago-based International Anthem label, by Mancunian multi-instrumentalist and composer Alabaster DePlume (Gus Fairbairn), it was exactly the kind of record a world confronting the COVID-19 pandemic most needed, and was subsequently rewarded with both remarkable popularity and critical acclaim.

GOLD album cover

The success of Alabaster’s musical vision is very much a product of his inimitable character. He is open and unassuming in interviews where he describes his compassionate and heartfelt personal philosophy with painstaking precision.

His latest album GOLDGo Forward in the Courage of Your Love (to give the full title) is a collaborative project with the ambition, so widespread in contemporary jazz, of finding that perfect balance between the magic of spontaneous improvisation and the need for a coherent structure. In this case, over two weeks Alabaster gathered together a diverse set of musicians at London’s Total Refreshment Centre (TRC) whom he deliberately under-prepared, so that it was up to the musicians to guide themselves through the songs. Then, following the techniques of label-mate Makaya McCraven, the resulting 17 hours of recorded material was later edited into shape by DePlume as producer.

Amongst the better-known names are Sarathy Korwar on drums and tabla, Tom Skinner on drums and Danalogue (of The Comet Is Coming) on synths. The range of musical talent on this album makes it very eclectic, ranging through the wistful Guinean vocals of Falle Nioke on Again, the Syd Barrett influenced sound of Who Is A Fool and the reggae rhythm of The World is Mine.

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DePlume not only plays tenor saxophone, the album’s most prominent instrument, but also performs on guitar, synths and vocals. The vocal contribution may well be a revelation to those who have only heard To Cy & Lee as the lyrics are mostly declaimed or incanted in Alabaster’s quiet voice rather than sung. However, as Alabaster calls himself a poet as well as a musician, the words are an integral part of his artistic vision as shown by the lyrics printed with the CD. On tracks like The World is Mine, DePlume sounds almost like a trip hop vocalist, whereas the defiant Fucking Let Them is reminiscent of his teenage years of performing in rock bands.

DePlume is an activist for a variety of social and political causes, principally those concerned with the welfare of the disadvantaged such as the adults with learning difficulties with whom he works at the North Manchester charity Ordinary Lifestyles. In general, the lyrics on the album confront the sense of unfocused anger often felt by society’s most vulnerable and promote a self-enhancing vision of universal self-worth. He stakes out his political views on some of the instrumental tunes such as the wistful Visitors YT15B – Jerusalem, Palestine and the melancholy closing track Now (Pink Triangle, Blue Valley), but other tunes are perhaps just meant to calm the soul such as Mrs Calamari and The Sound Of My Feet On This Earth Is A Song To Your Spirit.

Those who have enjoyed Alabaster DePlume’s earlier instrumental albums will enjoy GOLD. This excellent album demonstrates that relative commercial success need not lead to an artist compromising his ideals.

LINK: GOLD on Bandcamp

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