Album reviews

Vega Trails -‘Tremors in the Static’

Vega TrailsTremors in the Static

(Gondwana Records– GONDCD049. Album review by Graham Spry)

The COVID-induced unscheduled break from his normally hectic schedule gave bassist and composer Milo Fitzpatrick, former member of Portico Quartet, the opportunity to spend time re-assessing his musical directions. The music he chose to listen to and which has inspired his latest project, Vega Trails – the Swedish fiddle and Indian Classical music, for example – typically emphasises space and sparseness. He was also inspired by Jan Johansson’s timeless album Jazz på Svenska—a bass and piano duet performing Swedish folk tunes—and Charlie Haden’s classic duet albums, especially Closeness. Fitzpatrick’s close listening led him to compose for and record Tremors in the Static, an album of duets with Jordan Smart, the saxophonist from Mammal Hands.

Fitzpatrick and Smart are a natural fit for each other. In the last decade or so, both Portico Quartet and Mammal Hands have been playing music inspired by contemporary electronic music but whose strong melodic hooks often invoke folk melodies. The opening (and possibly the strongest) track of the album, Love Your Grace, features Fitzpatrick in a double bass solo with unobtrusive piano and electronics occasionally pulsing in the background. Smart has a prominent role on Train to Kyoto which may be the track that most swings like Mammal Hands, though generally the album’s music is more subdued and reflective, as on Spiral Slow and Closer, where Smart’s soprano sax swirls above and around Fitzpatrick’s melodic bass lines.

Smart doesn’t just play saxophone. He plays the bass clarinet on the charmingly reflective Thoughts Shifting and the raga influenced Red Moon Rising. On the latter song Smart also plays the ney, a Middle Eastern flute most often associated with Egyptian music, that appears prominently on the wholly improvised New Planet. In keeping with its title, the penultimate track, Epic Dream, showcases a wide range of instruments played and overlaid by the two musicians.

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The album’s title, Tremors in the Static, and the duo’s name, Vega Trails, are inspired by the Science Fiction novel Contact by Space Scientist Carl Sagan, from which was based a successful movie of the same name. The novel tells of the discovery of the first evidence of extra-terrestrial life by intercepting radio signals that emanate from the Vega star system. The title track is the album’s most overtly ambient in which the subtle use of electronic instruments, loops and samples plays a significant part along with Fitzpatrick’s arco and Smart’s restrained tenor sax. It is a slow and mysterious song that evokes an enigmatic feeling of far distant space that might easily be used in a future remake of the movie.

Other than Fitzpatrick and Smart, the only other contributor is producer and sound engineer, Brett Cox, who added electronics and samples to a couple of tracks and may well be responsible for the gorgeous open and clear sound of the set’s recording at St Thomas’ Church in Stamford Hill. This is a very good album recommended not only for fans of fellow Gondwana label-mates, Portico Quartet and Mammal Hands, but for those who relish the soulful but restrained sound of a acoustic horn and bass duet.

LINK: Tremors in the Static on Bandcamp

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