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Singing Dust - Singing Dust (Fresh Hold, Efficient Space, 2021)

The joint forces of Efficient Space and newly formed imprint Fresh Hold shine a light on one of the most ambitious and intriguing Australian Jazz fusion pieces from the mid 80s, with the experience found within going to make you re-think everything you know about progression, feel and perhaps even love.

Well here we are again, talking a bit about Jazz, but this time not within a contemporary context. Jazz had taken the music world by storm during the mid half of the 20th century, where it was interpreted time and time again via a conveyor belt of iconic talents and visionaries, and by the time the 60s became the 70s, its appeal had grown over very much into the collective consciousness. The symbiosis of Jazz with genres such as Rock, Funk, Boogie, you name it, could be traced back to this point in time, with movements like Jazz Funk gaining a real foothold amongst purveyors during the early 70s and beyond. Jazz just had that rich appeal that struck a chord with so many, in that its free flowing and boundary pushing ideas presented new ideas to musicians who wanted to do stuff within their own sphere, but just that little bit differently. Its conceptual frame is such that approaching conventional song writing became a thing of the past for some, with musicians becoming more and more concerned with how to make tracks ebb and flow more so to the tune of a Jazz fuelled structure. Whilst some of the various sub movements of Jazz received plenty of air time and applause, there were a number of differing representations that garned slightly less of an audience. These are the records and undercurrents that paired Jazz with some truly out there musical elements, where the genre morphed almost outside of itself and delved deep within a spectrum of otherworldly delights. Colour and scenes came to the surface, interplays merged and disappeared, frequencies chopped and changed and waved on into the dusk, it was music that anchored itself almost on the spirit of Jazz rather than its overtly obvious qualities, and this is where the magic really lies. Spiritual Jazz in essence was the sound that occupied many of these wavelengths, with its origins found in the late 60s where Jazz musicians sought to transcend themselves and the music which they played, and as a result a number of records were released that spoke as much to the heart as they did to the mind. Its a movement seeped in essence and the mystique, where long drawn out compositions roll out a sonic language that speaks of images, imaginations, dreams and realities, all of which was bought together with vivid and inventive instrumentation. The music sings as much as it mesmerises, operating neither here nor there, but mostly just residing in the middling planes between our world and the next, its ethereal glow bound within a structure of simmering percussion, loose brass solos and vocal performances calling out from beyond. It was Jazz but well and truly set within a dimension that had been explored with other forms of fusion, but this was really something truly different. A snapshot in the dark, a pillar in the light, a dynamism that rested on the laurels of life itself, giving over to the listener something that spoke of time and space in equal measure, and gave over an experience that would always be truly memorable.

A lot of these ideals were found on the sole Singing Dust release, which has been lovingly reissued by the good folks at Fresh Hold and Efficient Space, and the power of the music found within the wax is a bountiful joy to behold, in every shape of the word. The album, which was originally released on Melbourne based label Cleopatra Records in 1986, was the brainchild of Jazz Pianist Robert Welsh, who performed the vast majority of the instruments on the record, and in many ways this display of musicality is a testament to not just his abilities but his vision too. Welsh made sure to infuse a number of musical and literature based references within his music, with the latter being highlighted by the use of Ghazal style poetry on the vast majority of the tracks, with the original texts translated by Australian poet Francis Brabazon in the book 'In Dust I Sing'. The fusion in many respects occurs here, where Jazz fuelled soundscapes mimic and pronounce the words beautifully, helping to provide an experience that firmly toes the line between visceral imagery and breathtakingly profound audial soundscapes. The two sequences meet up in the most surprising and delightful of ways, with many stanzas found within the songs which help the flows of the words stick out even more. The melodies are sublime, with the woodwind instruments in particular providing many of the magical solo moments which permeate through the grooves. From short and sweet verses through to 9 minute long epics, the record is filled to the brim with moments to cherish, and as a listening experience you will find yourself returning to it over and over, dipping yourself into differing transitions every time just so you can receive the fullest experience possible. So, without further delay, lets dive into this masterpiece of Jazz scapes, ethereal vocals and simmering atmospheres....

Up first comes ‘Involution’, and this one fades in real slow and steady. The rhythm that emerges from the earth’s core is quiet, reflective and expansive, covering an enormous amount of ground as the vocals start to slide into the mix from above. Light xylophone or vibraphone notes make their presence known and help to reinforce the melodic layer up top, and around this time is when the vocals become two fold, with the original vocal line becoming the backing whilst a female lead mesmerises. The two sequences converge beautifully towards the end of the segment, leading the spirit on a soaring journey up to a place of serenity, and this seems like the perfect time to climax and move into the next phase. The drums align themselves with the pulse, as gorgeous glassy chords chime alongside a light bass line, but almost like a mirror the lead flute comes in to occupy the place of the lead vocals, and its utterly glorious. The keys then come occupy a lead space of their own, with the two instruments speaking breathlessly to one another, exerting all that they can melodically on one another, and after we squeeze all we can from this section, the vocals return to transition us into the next space. The keys electrify themselves even further here, moving up and down with a wonderful efficiency that perfectly matches the free flowing vocal lines, and as time passes by we continue to bind ourselves to the words being spoken and the notes being played. This is a track that exists close to the world around it, its pacing and tonal flow mimicking the physicality but also the spiritual essence of landform and place, and it sets the stage beautifully for the rest of the record. ‘Let Me Take Your Name’ arrives next, and this one begins with some softly rolling piano playing to get us going. The playing is split into two lines, with one on both side of the pan, which provides this sense of liveliness and presence, and this also allows for a space to be made in the middle for an element to make itself known. This is where the vocals come into being, and the gentle application of the words being spoken do much to the mind, caressing our imagination into seeing quite vividly the emotions and the scenarios being spoken about. The track continues on with this layout for some time, but before long we see yet another dynamic duality being played out in the form of the synth line that emerges from the underbelly, with the vocals matching their form expertly. To witness this symbiosis is truly remarkable, as we see man and hardware at one with one another, comfortable and blessed with each other’s presence to the point where things become utterly lifelike. We continue along at a canter, observing all the wonderful things that slide in and out of view, as further blemishes in frequencies keep making themselves know. The twinkling of keys never gets old, it simply continues to grace our ears with the same level of meaning that it always did, as the density is maximised by the addition of pads that further bind us to the mix. After a short pause, the track remerges with the dual vocal performance this time, and there’s a final chance to marvel at this beautiful display of quiet melodic ambience.

‘Song of The Reed’ comes next, and this one starts with the breeze and the wind chimes to get us going. Soon after the textures begin to pass, we see a singular flute emerge from the mist, its form winding and dipping amongst the glass like chimes as it goes from low to high and back again, its pattern matching that of a tree blowing in the breeze. Its wonderful to permeate longer tracks with these short excursions, and they feel just as important to the emerging story as the tunes that go on for multiple lifetimes. Short, but very very sweet. Up next comes ‘Sweet Agony’, and this one starts with the crashing waves of the keys to get us going. The piano remains as expressive as ever, its form lurching from deeply motivated low ends through to these flurries of high octane keys that create a perpetual sense of motion. This motion is then exaggerated by the strings that come into view, their feel one of solidness that contrasts perfectly with the deeply intricate and sequential keys, with both elements coming together expertly to carry us away to a very special place indeed. The relationship shows itself in many forms, with differing passages moving in and out of time in providing us with so much to involve ourselves within. As the track moves past the half way mark and into its final stanzas, the keys begin to relax more and allow themselves to submerge deeper into the backing chords, which leads to a moment of reflectionism. The energy falls away to leave just the piano and its majestic flow, converging and growing through the spatial sparseness that now characterises the track, and we are left with a very special feeling in our hearts once again. ‘Love Flower’ arrives next, and this one starts off with a very chirpy melody to kick things off. The initial salvo grows into a full ensemble soon after, with the vocals returning to the fold like they have never been away, as the keys in all their various forms do much to lift them up to the purest of places. The swings in density are out for all to see, with movements between the verses and the choruses particularly joyous to witness, as the melody starts to imprint itself into our hearts and minds. The track suddenly stops around the 2:30 mark, and this sees the music stripped back to just the chords and the vocals, which then grows into this gorgeous collection of wind wood instruments. The sound conjured up here feels so otherworldly, strange yet beguiling, transfixing and not of time or place but deeply enchanting none the less. The track then sees this sequence out and moves into yet another stage of the track, and this time the focus moves into a kind of jazz funk laden trip, and this might be our favourite part of the cut. The drumming is light and airy, but its the keys where things really impress, as chordal lines move up and through the groove, with guitar and vibraphone move freely to emphasis the free flowing pulse being perpetuated. The vocals come back into view, with their feel combining a number of differing threads that we have come to know and love about the previous sections, and it acts as a wonderful book end to a track that surprises at every turn, and contains some truly inspirational moments of instrumentation. Sublime stuff.

‘Love is Lovely And Lowly’ arrives next, and this one transitions back into a soft space once again. The piano is instead replaced with the glassy notes, and this initial line introduces the backing vocals to come into view, and the relationship between the two is already deeply enticing. The lead vocals come into view soon after, as both singers resonate with each other in terms of the words being spoken, as we glide along, eyes open to the world and to the passion being spoken about. The little flutters once again help to bind us into the blends being presented, and when the drums and bass come into view, it involves us even further into the mix. Its yet another beautiful switch up, with the interplays as delicate and impressive as they ever have been, and we are left with yet another feeling to take away from this glorious experience. To wrap things up, we have ‘Desert Chant’, and this one starts off very softly indeed. The calming melodic elements charm along underneath, their presence propping up the emerging force of the vocals which filter their way across the spectrum being created, and as time passes by we see other elements such as quivering bass notes make themselves known also. The flute that comes right into the foreground moves along at the exact same frequency as the other melodic layers, which makes the scale feel large but also controlled at the same time, as we are left with this highly absorbing scene to deal with. The segment is allowed to go on for a fairly long time, its subtle unravelling provided all the space in the world to grow, expand and explore, as we merge ourselves with the ongoing audial narrative being crafted. The light swells in from multiple sources, with this buoyant energy confirmed as the vocals drift back into the mix, their placement now reserved for the chapter breaks and shifts which we have come to know and adore on this record. This composition remains a fitting end to a record that harps along to life itself, the spaces that mould us and the life forces which we make our own, and there is no denying that this record contains a plethora of magical essences to it. We drift as much as we stay on the ground, with the music providing a door into the subconscious that will forever remain open as a result. Who knows what will flow in - and out - of it in the future. Unreal stuff.

Jazz remains a cornerstone in so many integral and profound records, that its hard to not think about its impact upon music for one hour, and that is tough even in itself. Its core values have so entrenched themselves within so many styles and periods of music that came after it that its simply a case of following the Jazzy tropes and seeing what wonderfulness the musician was able to come up with. Robert Welsh has very much created a little corner of the world to call his own on this release, with the sounds he conjured up speaking softly in the breeze but hitting so effectively when the lyrics start to glide across the top ends of the experience. The two sequences combine so many times within the record, but always in a slightly differing way, and this helps to bind us to the audial flow and get a better understanding of the messages being conveyed. Beautifully diverse, epically scaled and with such a glorious sense of progression, Welsh's world is one rooted in the principles of Jazz but executed in the spheres of ambience, of textural application and thought, and this ear for detail means that every note makes a point, every chordal movement has a purpose, and every vocal delivery comes straight from the heart. Its a record that we are so happy to be able to enjoy, and its one that will forever echo through the ages. Sublime, sublime, sublime.

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