Album review: CHRIS ALLARD – Invisible Landscape

Chris Allard - Invisible Landscape

Perdido [Release date 10.06.16]

Chris Allard probably won’t thank me for saddling him with the jazz fusion tag, but he’s a subtle guitarist who evokes the likes of John Schofield and Lee Ritenour over 10 tracks full of inspired interplay, essential spontaneity and deep solos that rise surreptitiously from the most introspective of beginnings.

Allard is a touch player who gently caresses his strings and varies the intensity of his notes to explore different nuances. On the second track ‘Critter’, he pushes the trio on to another level with sculpted, crystal clear guitar lines that make an emotional connection.

He’s also a conversational guitarist who engages the listener with an ethereal feel to beguile us with the gentlest of touch, while his restless creativity leads to spiralling solos that always retain a linear direction.

He also sets himself little tensions which are resolved by a clever use of dynamics over a melange of styles. His music may be rooted in jazz fusion, but it’s not necessarily defined by that genre.

He cuts the main body of the tracks with his trio and then overlays them with a variety of tones, while the gap between the two provides a potent dynamic thrust.

Listen for example, to the chiming resonance of the title track, on which he threads a delicate web of interwoven guitar lines, which snake their way through the song like a guide.

On the opening ‘Morphic Resonance’, he spends the first 1 minute and 45 seconds constructing an introspective ambient landscape before any semblance of a thematic development, while building up a tension with strummed chords.

The understated style is revisited on the sonic featherbed of ‘Extended Mind’ which draws the listener into another angular journey.

Not everything works so seamlessly however, as he suddenly diverges from this consistent approach on the fragmented ‘Let’s Get Lost’, complete with an unexpected vocal by guest keyboard player Charlie Wood on a jaunty Latino piece.

The vocal doesn’t really add anything significant to the complex arrangement and the end result is a head-on collision between lounge music crooning and unessential noodling.

The other vocal on the closing ‘Was’ is better, but it still sits uneasily alongside Allard’s guitar ‘voice’ which does his most impressive talking for him.

‘Hekla’ is a more convincing meditative tranquil piece with an undulating sweep, melodic beauty and a well crafted finish with a gentle fade.  Coming at just past the half way point, it acts as a musical pit-stop, before Allard heads into the fusiony ‘Finn’, a track glued together by yet more intricate interplay.

Wayne Shorter’s ‘Fall’ provides an exhilarating lift to the album as Allard makes a deft use of space, time and a delicate tone to make the piece his own.

Bassist Oli Hayhurst is both an unobtrusive accompanist and an occasional soloist, as on the gently plucked ‘Distant Storm Clouds’, a percolating piece which evokes the song title perfectly.

Drummer Nick Smalley’s consistent phrasing also gives the album substance and continuity, allowing Allard’s notes to rise, twinkle and fill the tracks with tonal variety and a range of emotional nuances.

In an age of instant downloads and short attention spans, ‘Invisible Landscape’ is a brave album built on artistic integrity, framed by Allard’s inventive musical vision and realized by the band’s technical and improvisational excellence. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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