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Ben Tankard - All Keyed Up EP (Time Capsule, 2019)

An EP so heavily layered with richness, it feels like nature itself, as the TimeCapsule camp release yet another timeless gem.

There are some real compelling reissue labels out there currently, doing the rounds on bringing to light some of music's most overlooked or under appreciated albums. But none quite compare to the small but powerful output of Time Capsule. A label born from the Beauty and the Beat parties, and from London listening bar Brilliant corners, the heads behind it sure do have a passion for music that runs not only through the deepest of crates, but an appreciation for the widest array of music going, that is reflected enormously in their outputs. From Il Guardiano Del Faro's 'Oasis' reissue, the labels first, through to the incredible 'Choice Works 1982 - 1985' by Yuji Toriyama, to the 2019 releases 'Illuminated Audio' by Gigi and Bombay S Jayashri's incredible 'Shravanam' album, the range of genres is amazing, taking in ambient dreamscapes, funk fusion, disco, Indian Classical, dub, name it, these amazing reissues will have you grooving and thinking for years to come.

So now we arrive at their final release of 2019 (that was really sneaked in!), a selection of songs from Ben Tankard's seminal 1989 release, 'All Keyed Up'. Tankard combined his loves of gospel and jazz into a new blend, where jazz keys abounded over deep deep gospel chords, all arranged within a futuristic electronic soundscape. His music moves from the ultra groovy, the mega classy, to tunes that simply move you through their forward thinkingness. In many ways, it could be argued that 'All Keyed Up' had an enormous impact on deep house during the early 90s, where the genre moved into new compositional areas of exploration, whilst incorporating more free form elements that were inspired by the jazz movements. The little flutes, the keys and the bass lines, all moved away from rigid compositions and into more experimentation lights, and Tankard here shows off his skills and musical vision here to maximum impact. So lets take a dip.

First up we have 'Eden Celebration', perhaps the most thought provoking of all the tracks. What begins with nature sounds then drips into deep old chords, elegantly placed, before a proper high tempo stripped back drum beat comes into play. It almost has a sort of electro swing to it, with minimal hats or cymbals save for the chorus breaks. The verses contain a series of swirling jazz key lines, beautiful in their almost natural movements, that interplay so incredibly. Flute lines abound and play around, as for when the chorus lines come in, its all about those deep chords that played out at the beginning. Tankard takes us through some serious movements here, allowing moments of space where the flutters of keys take charge, before the filled up gaps of the chorus take us away. It is a proper masterclass, and fills like a bridge between house, disco, boogie, gospel, and everything else. A track that seems to make time stand still in its sublime beauty, its musical intricacies and intrigue a world apart from the rest. An absolute joy. Up next we have 'Melodic Heaven'. This displays the smoooooooth as hell groove of Tankard's sound, as we are introduced to a slowed down boogie burner that will soundtrack your slow journeys through the city at night. The bass line following the drums then bridges out to slow and steady chords, with all the space to allow for groovy keys and little lines to do their thing. Its a masterclass in 80s styling compositions, particularly the ever evolving jazz solo line that knits all the various elements together so perfectly. You sometimes just get lost within the layers, where so many levels of musical exploration are occurring; the rhythm, the highs, the lows, the solos, its all here. The sax that comes along too, just keeps it going. When other songs might feel a bit too filled with things going on, Tankard has the skills to keep everything flowing, the moments in time provided by the spaces but also the tonal emphasis he places on each chord. All of this adds up to a groove of the highest order, elevated boogie at its finest. God damn.

Next comes the title track, that takes the level down to a jazz filled exploration. The piano takes prominence at the beginning, but as to not give up the vibe of the first two tracks, it all comes away to form a bass and drum filled cauldron of goodness. The bass feeds off the reverbed drumming pattern, again stripped back for maximum effect, as the keys just keep going on their quest for sonic richness. Here we feel the jazz like never before, with the blend pushed further towards this end of Tankard's style, but as it is done over this effortlessly groovy electronic beat, it just affirms this record as one that truly stands out from the rest. A short and sweet masterclass, it will never get old in our ears. Finally, we have the Time Capsule 'Seaside Mix' of the title track. The expansiveness captured on the original track is expanded on here to maximum impact, with little additional drums added in all the right places. The spaces are filled slightly more with additional keys, as the groove opens up more. This is an welcome re imagination of the song, particularly elements added in after the 3 minute mark, where the tune enters this balearic heaven part, with deep chords coming through from the depths. Superb stuff!

Ben Tankard truly made something special within his music. A expert blend of jazz and gospel, when combined with electronic and boogie stylings, birthed something that can be referenced through time and genres that would come after. A fusion album of the highest order, but also one that showcases how a diligent and musically original mind can craft something so perfect and elevated. Tankard spent his time honing his style, and it shows, where we are taken to new world and experiences by a mind with a vision and ability.

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