05 August 2010

CD REVIEW: Theo Travis - Double Talk (2007/2009 Voiceprint Records)

Theo Travis is one busy guy.

He’s a member of The Tangent from time to time. He’s a current member of Gong. He is a member of Soft Machine Legacy. He records with Robert Fripp. And occasionally he scrapes out enough time to record one of his own solo albums. His most recent studio album is Double Talk, a mostly quartet oriented album released on Voiceprint Records.

Theo has put together a very hot little group for this release. Mike Outram is stunning on guitar, with tones ranging from the crisp and clean to down and dirty. His solos are fluid and effortless, while his use of tone and shade when not standing out front to solo is impeccable. Pete Whittaker’s organ playing is similarly exemplary. It’s a joy to hear some real Hammond organ in a British jazz environment, and he acquits himself very well indeed. Ray Dodds’ drumming is excellent as well…he lays back and grooves and swings, but he’s just as capable of unleashing some great fills and twists to keep the music moving and hot.

Then there’s Theo Travis himself.

What can I say about him?

I’m more familiar with his work in the Tangent and Gong. Both bands have tendencies to go in jazz directions, albeit in totally different ways. In the Tangent, his playing is a bit more fusion-oriented, as befits a band with structured songs and less totally free playing and improvisation. In Gong, he gets a chance to go a bit wilder, albeit in a more space rock oriented manner. In either case, his playing is recognisable. It honestly doesn’t matter if he’s on flute or tenor or soprano sax…you can tell it’s him playing within a bar or three. In addition to his playing, his song writing is worthy of note. He’s come up with a fine collection of compositions for Double Talk, compositions that push himself and his band mates and allow for some great solo spots as well.

While it’s true that the material on Double Talk is mostly based in more of a jazz format, this shouldn’t imply that there’s a lack of ‘balls.’ ‘Ascending,’ which opens the album, is chock full of hot soloing. Sure, it’s a laid back tune, but it travels. It goes places. Best of all, it’s a song, not just a thematic head with solo after solo lined up in a row. Travis’s spotlights are tasty and cool, while Outram lets fly with some very cool flurries of notes. It’s followed by ‘Oblivionville,’ which at over 16 minutes is by far the longest piece on Double Talk. It’s also the first song on the release to feature contributions from Robert Fripp, with whom Travis has been working extensively recently. Fripp’s contributions are from his soundscapes ‘The Last Day,’ ‘Open Earth’ and ‘A Return,’ and these form the foundation Travis uses to build his composition. On this piece, Travis plays flute and clarinet, as well as adding in his own flute loops. The end result is a slowly developing piece with long, quiet themes and a peaceful, meditative feel.

‘The Relegation of Pluto,’ on the other hand, doesn’t have an opportunity to slow burn…it’s cooking right out of the box. The opening musical phrase is fast, furious, and features the quartet ripping right from the start. A quick break leads to some very nice organ work from Pete Whittaker, with Ray Dodds grooving and skittering away on drums and choked cymbals. Travis’s tenor sax playing is also great, winding around the organ and some very wild guitar work from Outram. Remember in the previous sentence where I mentioned ‘balls?’ Well, this track has them in abundance.

Robert Fripp guests on two additional tracks on Double Talk. The first of these is ‘The Endless Search,’ which sees him offering up both soundscapes and some nice electric guitar playing along side Travis’ restrained alto sax playing. A piece along the lines of ‘Duo’ from former Crimson violinist David Cross’s ‘Exiles’ album, it’s a bit of a breather from the hot number that preceded it. Fripp’s final contributions are on ‘Pallendream,’ where he takes Outram’s place as guitarist in the quartet. Here his playing straddles the line between soundscape and straight up ‘standard’ guitar playing. This piece, like ‘The Endless Search,’ is a laid back, quiet number that simmers comfortably.

The biggest surprise for me was the selection of Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ as a cover. It’s nice to see the early Floyd get attention, as far too many people seem to believe that PF really only mattered after they released Dark Side of the Moon. ‘See Emily Play’ was, and is, a gorgeous pop song, and Travis’s interpretation is respectful to the original while offering a few nice twists of his own. Travis himself handles the vocal melodies on sax, and it’s interesting to hear a different ‘voice’ ‘singing’ this song. I can’t say that it’s necessarily the most killer song on the set, but it was an inspired choice, and while I prefer his originals to this cover, it is pretty enjoyable to hear what he and his band do with it.

Double Talk closes out with ‘Portobello ’67.’ Outram leads off with some glistening guitar work, while the band kicks in with a jaunty, upbeat theme. This feels like road trip music, and oddly as it plays I could see it being played over some closing credits in a movie after the guy gets his girl and they drive off into the sunset and their future. Does that sound too twee? Well, maybe it is, but it’s got that same upbeat, happy ending kind of feel. There’s no end of cool playing on this tune, from Whittaker’s cool Hammond playing, Outram’s solos and crisp chording, Dodd’s swinging drumming and Travis’s hot tenor sax. It’s a great way to close off an album of diverse songs and playing.

If you’re only familiar with Travis’s playing from his work in Gong or Soft Machine Legacy or the Tangent, you owe yourself to get in a copy of Double Talk. Even if you’re not a hardcore jazz fan, I think there’s more than enough here to enjoy and dig in to.

Track Listing:
Ascending 9:40
Oblivionville 16:16
The Relegation of Pluto 7:17
The Endless Search 6:07
Pallendream 5:46
See Emily Play 4:39
And So It Seemed 10:43
Portobello 67 5:35

Band Members:
Theo Travis – sax, flute, clarinets, loops
Pete Whittaker – Hammond organ
Mike Outram – electric guitar
Ray Dodds – drums, gongs

Robert Fripp – electric guitar, soundscapes



Anonymous said...

'See Emily Play 4:39'
Would this be the Pink Floyd number from their earlier days, with Syd Barret?

Bill K. said...

In the review:

"The biggest surprise for me was the selection of Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ as a cover. It’s nice to see the early Floyd get attention, as far too many people seem to believe that PF really only mattered after they released Dark Side of the Moon."