In a world full of Snarky Puppy’s and Vulpeck’s, it’s hard for a fusion band to stand out from the crowd. Through their original blend of virtuosic complexity and uplifting melodies, Lydian Collective pull it off with ease.
Comprised of 4 of the most criminally underrated musicians of the decade, Lydian Collective are a fusion group combining jazz with world music and electronic influences. The creative genius of Aaron Wheeler and Todd Baker form the sound of the band, with prolific drummer Sophie Alloway and expert bassist Ida Hollis creating an exceptionally tight backbone.
The infectious rhythms that fill the album are heard from track 1, the lead single, ‘Thirty One’. A playful, almost South American sounding melody resonates from Baker’s guitar in a time signature that is hard to pinpoint on the first listen, while the never overcrowded rhythm section highlights every syncopation and accent with perfect subtlety. The only thing comparable to the experience of hearing this track for the first time is hearing Snarky Puppy’s ‘Lingus’ for the first time. The complexity, made so listenable and seemingly simple, is genuinely quite an experience to hear.
Following the stunning opener come the next two singles: ‘Legend Of Lumbar’ and ‘Cascades’, two almost equally brilliant pieces. The off-beat backing heard throughout the former is virtually impossible not to tap along to, and the delicate piano of the latter brings a welcome calm to the thus-far upbeat album. Key to the success of these three exceptional openers is the consistently perfect drumming of Sophie Alloway, who, rather than many drummers on her level, matches her playing to the mood of the piece instead of showing off. Despite working with artists such as Roots Manuva and Tony Allen, it’s baffling that Alloway isn’t one of the most in-demand session drummers in the country, especially as she’s genuinely far better than a lot of male drummers with more prolific careers. Hopefully this album works towards changing the stereotype and we hear her playing with many artists in the future.
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The rest of the album is made up of album tracks that don’t have quite the same impact as the opening singles, but that’s not to say there aren’t hugely impressive works hidden within. ‘East’ continues the exceptional rhythmic work heard so far, while ‘Overnight’ builds from an almost ambient work into a wide soundscape full of delightful synthesised improvisation. ‘Mr Sunshine’ is the Lydian Collective’s take on the piece of the same name, from Wheeler’s solo project ‘Laszlo’. Racking up nearly a million Spotify plays, the original has (for now) built up more of a following than any track on ‘Adventure’. This new version takes a more traditional, folky approach, with the strange sound effects and production heard in the Laszlo version being replaced by a much more fitting natural sound.
After a short interlude in the shape of ‘Sleepyhead’, we hear ‘Equinox’ which (perhaps unintentionally?) gives some thematic unity across the album, with the melody reminiscing that heard in track 6’s ‘Loops’. The 7/8 exploration of ‘Lydia’s Dream’ is one of the few tracks on the album where the title clearly links to the music, with a dreamlike quality being noticeable throughout. ‘Cartoon Hero’ acts as the perfect way to round off an album of incredible quality. The production is stunning, with buzzing synths running around the stereo field, perfectly mixed guitar sounding as if it’s in the room with you, a grounded bass supporting every chord change with ease, and the drum solo we’ve been waiting for for 60 minutes not disappointing.
Adventure is an exceptional debut album. It’s musical virtuosity and compositional excellence speak to musicians, while the addictive rhythms and bouncy melodies will catch the ear of anyone who can appreciate good music when they hear it.
GIGsoup’s Dan Peeke had a chat with Lydian Collective about the album…
If you had to pick one, who is each member of the bands all-time favourite artist?
Ida: ‘It’s hard to choose between Jaco Pastorius and Steve Swallow because they have both inspired and influenced my playing and musicianship equally and in such different ways, from their compositions and improvisation to pure instrumental sound and creativity’
Todd: ‘Early Steve Vai’
Sophie: ‘This is a tough one as I love so many different artists but I suppose I’d have to say Stevie Wonder’
Aaron: ‘Avishai Cohen’
Who specifically inspired your compositional style?
Aaron: ‘Frank Zappa. He’s the link between the classical, jazz & electronic and a massive influence on the way I create instrumental music. Love his wacky modal unison lines and complex arrangements’
And your playing styles?
Sophie: ‘Steve Gadd is my biggest drum inspiration. Also Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Porcaro, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and many more’
How did you come up with the titles for each song on Adventure, given there are no lyrics?
Thirty One – Todd and I were both 31 years old when we wrote the piece.
Legend of Lumbar – I originally wrote this when I couldn’t move during a serious spinal injury (in the lumbar section of my spine).
Cascades – This describes the cascading melody in the piece.
East – Todd wrote this tune when he moved to Hackney in East London.
Overnight – This describes the chilled out late night vibe in the track.
Mr Sunshine – This track was composed on a sunny day and was a positive reflection of the spirit of the time.
Loops – This track consists of multiple interlocking loops.
Sleepyhead – This tune is an improvised interlude track which has a dreamy / sleepy quality to it.
Equinox – This track was first put forward as an idea to rehearse with the band on the Spring Equinox of 2015.
Lydia’s Dream – is a play on the word Lydian!
Portals – Todd and I have this theory – That one day someone will stumble across the perfect use of the Lydian scale in its most beautiful and pure form and it will open up a mini portal to another dimension – Portals is our attempt at this! (like on the 1986 Masters of the Universe film).. they used ‘the sacred tones’ (which was 4 notes from the Lydian Scale) from a 80’s keyboard into to open a portal to transport themselves into Skeletor’s dimension to save the day!
Cartoon Hero – this is the title track from my ‘Laszlo’ album of the same name. This is inspired by the music from 80’s cartoons like He-man / Thundercats etc. This track was composed in between my first and second spinal operations, as a way focusing myself on the intense physiotherapy that was to come in the post-op phase of my recovery – so I was trying to psych myself up in the spirit of the training montage from Rocky IV!
Did you record Adventure live or multi-tracked?
Aaron: We mostly recorded it multi-tracked, so we could have more control over the mix, but there are a few exceptions such as Cascades and Portals.
Do you have plans to tour the album soon?
Aaron: Yes, we do. We are looking into setting up a UK tour right now!
And finally, what time signature(s) would you say Thirty One is actually in?
Sophie: When I first learnt ‘Thirty One’ I split it into 5/8 (3/8 + 2/8) and 7/8 (4/8 + 3/8), equalling a weird 12/8. This is the way I hear the phrasing of the main riff.
Aaron: After much debate, we now have reached a consensus that it is in a very pushed and syncopated 12/8!