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CD REVIEW: Theo Travis - Double Talk
By Alex Jasperse - 01/02/2008 - 02:33 PM EST

Artist: Theo Travis
Album: Double Talk [2007]
Label: 33 Records
Genre: Progressive Jazz and Post-Bop
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9.5/10
Songwriting Skills: 9.5/10
Performance Skill: 9.5/10
CD Review:

Active in the British music scene for well over a decade, Theo Travis’s signature blend of progressive jazz has made him one of the best-kept secrets in the jazz world. Garnering an impressive reputation lending his woodwind multi-instrumentalist talents to prog-rockers Porcupine Tree, Gong and The Tangent, Norwegian pop star Anja Garbarek and art-rocker David Sylvian (Japan), his ability to effortlessly move from genre to genre touches on the extraordinary. A musical innovator with an unmatched determination to expand the jazz vocabulary – redefining, reshaping and exploring it – Travis is the Miles Davis of the saxophone.

Travis’s latest release, Double Talk, combines elements from his work in both the jazz and progressive rock domains, allowing him to interweave and reconfigure stylistic elements into his own combination of progressive jazz. Alongside his quartet and the guitar talents of Robert Fripp, the album bountifully expands the sonic palette, balancing both a spacious minimalist approach with a classic post-bop spirit.

Able to concentrate on one note to make it resonate with the force of a large ensemble, Travis’s instrumental lyricism and attention to detail in “Ascending” is truly impressive. Alongside the slow march of organ and drums, Travis takes the time to shape and build his melodic statements without allowing any other part to encroach too soon. Momentarily stepping back, guitarist Mike Outram becomes the catalyst that ricochets things forwards, trading sustained notes and vicious downward lines with a King Crimson velocity, ushering Travis in moments later to wrap things up.

Switching over to the flute, Travis’s lines begin to cross each other’s paths in “Oblivionville” with a lush dreamscape quality that’s reminiscent of the works of fellow saxophonist, Jan Garbarek. The surreal beauty of the instrumental simplicity soon breaks into an upbeat sax melody that stretches its arms across the piece, commanding the group to liven things up, and to welcome in another solo by Outram that beautifully stops itself in mid-sentence to react and play off its own echoes. Dissolving into a soundscape, Fripp enters and effortlessly floats his trademark whirls of his synthesized guitar sounds across the foreground, allowing his droning guitar sighs to freely wander about while Travis occasionally injects some last melodic thoughts. The attention to detail is immaculate with neither musician wandering off on their own, taking the time to actively listen and react to each other’s ideas, gracefully adding layers of ethereal textures.

After taking a short detour with a more group-oriented piece in “The Relegation of Pluto,” the mystery of Travis and Fripp’s slow rhythmic ambient chemistry returns once again in “The Endless Search” and “Pallendream.” There’s a sense of enormity and vast distances in these slow compositions, and even with the lush layers of flutes, the wah-wah sax and the liquid textures of Fripp’s guitar, nowhere does the grandeur of either piece feel imposing. It’s beautiful simplicity; both musicians understand how to shape the sound that makes ‘simple’ sound more beautiful than even the most complex pieces.

The album does make a rather sharp turn with the Pink Floyd cover of “See Emily Play.” Prog purists may have a tough time with the wah-wah sax taking the lead, however, Travis is careful enough to cover Syd Barrett’s vocal part with much respect. Although it would have been a treat to hear a variation on the original song, additions in the latter half (such as the Hammond Organ adding a space rock tinge) do a fair job at reworking the classic.

Nearing the end, Travis’s quartet gets their chance to stretch their legs in the jazzier “And So It Seemed.” Not to steal the show with his warm tenor charm, Travis hands off the lead to organist Peter Whittaker to allow him to have some time under the spotlight, and as he races across the foreground, he commands the progression with the same authority, effortlessly dancing across the keys. In line with the earlier piece “See Emily Play,” the transition into “Portobello 67” revisits the earlier upbeat 1960s pop charm, and with colourful flourishes of guitar and organ that wash over Travis’s lead, it becomes the perfect conclusion for the album.

When Double Talk is all done, it’s an experience – an album you walk away from with memories. This is jazz filtered through the mind of Theo Travis, where a collage of musical ideas never sounds messy or disjointed. Each piece can stand on its own in its own respective genre, but Travis’s remarkable gift of being able to cohesively create an album that fluidly speaks in different genres is what makes his work such a treat. For any progressive rock or experimental jazz lover, you owe it to yourself to check out Double Talk.

The Verdict:

For more information, please visit Theo Travis's official website.

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