John Ghost – Thin Air. Mirror Land
(Sdban Ultra SDBANU 036CD, Review by Frank Graham)
Formed in 2010 by guitarist / composer Jon De Geest, John Ghost comprises Rob Banken (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Wim Segers (vibraphone, marimba, percussion); Karel Cuelenaere (piano, keyboards); Lieven Van Pee (bass) and Elias Devoldere (drums, percussion). All are active within Belgium’s eclectic creative music scene, and many of their individual side projects have been documented by Ghent-based groove hounds Sdban Ultra.
This is the group’s third full-length album, and just like 2019’s Airships Are Organisms (REVIEWED HERE) it has been produced by Jørgen “Sir Duper Man” Træen, who will forever be associated with Jaga Jazzist’s groundbreaking A Living Room Hush (2001). The towering influence of the Norwegian ‘jazztronica’ supergroup is felt at every turn, though the music should also appeal to followers of such post-jazz stylists as John Hollenbeck, Bill Laurance, Hidden Orchestra and the Portico Quartet.
Several shades darker than Airships and with fewer opportunities for individual soloists to break out, Thin Air . Mirror Land holds the attention via an action-packed cinematic narrative. All of the song-titles were inspired Edvard Munch’s painting The Storm (1883), which like The Scream depicts a solitary individual experiencing trauma as others look on. De Geest responds with a suitably dystopian vision, though I often detect a more optimistic counterpoint in the natural warmth of the acoustic instruments.
Opening with the Southern Spanish and North African airs of “The Quantities”, the long unfolding theme is punctuated by some surprisingly delicate passages of Flamenco rhythm. “The Hordes” is closer to the futurism of Jaga Jazzist, its heavy motoric pulse and arresting chords accented by vibraphone and marimba. “The Hedges” is more reflective and open-textured, its abstract middle section recalling the grainy post-industrial soundscapes of Oliver Doerell’s Dictaphone.
Elsewhere the intertwining melodies and hypnotic minimalist repetitions of “The Dimmed” bring to mind Kieran Hebden’s Fourtet, an inviting refuge before the heavy riffing of the “The Flies”. Closing with the complex shapeshifting forms of “Them”, it’s a masterclass in tension and release, and one of the high spots of a deeply satisfying set.
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Thin Air. Mirror Land is released today 6 October 2023