Ruf [Release date 24.11.14]
A welcome return for the progressive jazz rock outfit Colosseum who have overcome their collective health problems to record an album that pushes the stylistic envelope, and almost leaves them in search of an identity.
Happily a combination of strong material and inspired playing ensures a coherent set worthy of their enduring musical cannon.
Given the virtual collapse of the jazz rock and fusion market in the interim period between the band’s original dissolution and their comeback in 1994, the album title has an ironic ring about it. On their last studio album ‘Tomorrow’s Blues’ they traded their former progressive style for a more mature blues feel, but this album has a surprisingly broader sweep.
‘Time On Our Side’ initially feels less accessible than it’s predecessor, but repeated plays reveals a greater musical depth, with deep grooves, shifting themes and expansive solos. Above all, veteran vocalist Chris Farlowe hits his stride from ‘Dick’s Licks’ onwards, while Pete Brown esoteric lyrics gradually become less impenetrable to blend in with the shifting musical landscape.
The opening Hiseman/Thompson composition ‘Safe As Houses’ sets a high standard. It’s a keyboard led groove with poignant lyrics and some fine horn work from Barbara Thompson.
In sharp contrast, ‘Blues To Music is a radical departure for the band, being a bluesy duet between Farlowe and the song’s writer, the Americana sounding Ana Gracey (Hiseman and Thompson’s daughter). Bolstered by potent bv’s and some discernible spark between both vocalists, the track blows away any doubters and gives the band another potential musical avenue.
The cutely titled ‘The Way We Waved Goodbye’ fails to build on its initial bristling intent despite consecutive sax and guitar breaks and ultimately runs out of steam. ‘Dicks Licks’ is more interesting, being a restless laid back jazzy shuffle with characteristic tempo changes that ushers in lounge music and echoes of Steely Dan, before eventually settling into a groove that fades out too soon..
‘City Of Love’ is the album highlight. It evokes Brubeck‘s ‘Take 5’ on the introductory theme and leads to Chris Farlowe’s best vocal on the album. There’s a mix of double horn and guitar lines, backed by some startlingly good Crosby Stills & Nash style harmonies, all offset by Clemson’s sinewy guitar, on a song that flows beautifully.
It’s almost as if the whole album has worked towards this one glorious moment when the band finally finds its unique oeuvre. And having done so, the combo leans into the bluesy song with some swagger, led by Hiseman’s crisp drumming which shapes the music and drives the band on relentlessly.
The track is cleverly juxtaposed by Mark Clarke’s vocal piece ‘Nowhere To Be Found’. An exercise in cool restraint, the arrangement places the emphasis on the voice and sonic resonance, with a tinge of echo reverb. Each vocal inflection and carefully considered note brings an extra emotive nuance to a song glued together by Greenslade’s drifting organ line.
There’s an essential ebb and flow to the sequencing, as evidenced by the uplifting feel of the slide-led Clemson/Brown composition ‘You Just Don’t Get It’. Its a slowly evolving, smoking blues on which Clem’s slide soars above Farlowe’s excellent phrasing and some Kokomo style bv’s. It’s destined to be a live favourite, and comes closest to embodying Colosseum’s current bluesy style. Barbara’s deep-toned solo is the icing on the cake on a superb track.
Dave Greenslade’s sonorous ballad ‘New Day’ could have been written for Jack Bruce, albeit there’s an organ solo and the chorus sounds like The Band. Colosseum do actually include an ode to Jack, as they stretch out on the live version of Bruce’s ‘Morning Story’. The song may not have aged that well, but it’s given fresh life by a magnificent solo from Barbara Thompson.
The two tracks are sandwiched by the original title track of the album ‘Anno Domini’. The gritty effort is padded with jazzy riffs, a fusiony mid-section and a horn led motif that will surely connect with older fans in search of jazz in their veins
‘Time On Our Side’ is a slow burner, which brings rich reward with repeated plays. The title says it all really. We live in a world of instant, disposable downloads, while this is music that demands patience, endeavour and open mind. The bottom line is that those committed to putting in the listening time will find some great music. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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