Music Theories Recordings/Mascot [Release date 25.10.19]
Let’s be honest. Jan Akkerman hasn’t exactly been active in terms of album releases in the millennium. I also have to declare an interest having managed several UK tours for the guitarist in the late-1990s, when I also managed his website, and written an unofficial biography.
Renowned as the fleet-fingered fretter in Focus, the Dutch prog rock band who shrank EU boundaries in 1972/5, he followed a fairly solitary solo path from 1976 onwards. The albums vary from soft rock to, more frequently, softer jazz fusion.
I’ve mentioned before in reviews that when Akkerman came to the UK in 2000 he brought a clutch of jazz fusion tunes – collectively entitled ‘Jazzah’ – that fitted perfectly with the zeitgeist, specifically there was a national radio station – Jazz FM – playing the stuff.
I can always remember standing in the audience in Tavistock, the first date of Jan’s tour, when he unveiled several of these pieces on an unsuspecting audience and they were enraptured. Especially the ladies!
Unfortunately, these tunes never morphed into a fully fledged album even if there are echoes in 2011′s ‘Minor Details’ and 2003′s ‘CU’ . They were, though, all highly accessible.
Well, surprise surprise, ‘Reunion’ – one of those early demos – now re-appears and is one of the new album highlights.
Those coming to ‘Close Beauty’ expecting the fleet-fingered rocker of old will be in for something of a shock. Akkerman fans, though, will fully understand the latest instalment and nod their head approvingly.
Opener ‘Spiritual Privacy’ sets the expected high standard musical tone, a moody and dramatic ground over which Akkerman weaves his acoustic spell.
Whilst the guitarist is ably abetted by his regular band members several pieces including the title track ‘Close Beauty’ feature, perhaps surprisingly, sequenced drums and are almost certainly home-spun creations along with unadorned pieces like ‘Passagaglia’.
Any recognition of ‘former glories’ such as on ‘Tommy’s Anniversary’ are thinly veiled. In fact this piece also references the excellent self-titled, orchestrated solo album (1977).
‘Retrospection’ revives the classic Focus piece Eruption with the various song titles inevitably construed as a reference to his one-time musical partner Thijs van Leer (Emotional Debris – The Power Behind The Throne – Hear The Trees Whistle For The Dog – Euridice).
Apart from technical brilliance and unsurpassed taste, Akkerman’s strength has always been to tell stories on his guitar. ‘Beyond The Horizon’ (demoed previously as a background track on Akkerman’s website) and ‘Meanwhile In St.Tropez’ are the sort of close-focussed tunes that hark back to those late-1990s grooves whilst songs like ‘Don Giovanni’, ‘French Pride’ and ‘Fromage’ are fairly perfunctory. The final flourish “Good Body Every Evening” is similarly uneventful.
You can’t help thinking at the end of this latest album journey – it would be great if he still rocked out occasionally. But I suppose you can’t keep playing variations of ‘Hocus Pocus’ all your life?
For the moment Akkerman’s website has been taken over by the new album/branding, the previous site at least gave a comprehensive discography. A great way to catch up is the bargain-priced 26 disc box set ‘The Complete Jan Akkerman’ which even includes rarities we released via the website nearly two decades ago.
A new album always shines a spotlight on an artist, especially one as enigmatic as Akkerman. Rather than his magnum opus this should be viewed as a mere springboard to discover former riches. ‘Close Beauty’ will then make a lot more sense. ***1/2
Review by David Randall
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