Sometimes people ask me why I like jazz and the best way that I can describe it is that often the music takes me on a journey. Sugarwork, the debut album by Sugarwork, took me to a place of summer transformation. One of those summers when something inside you shifts and by the time autumn arrives you realise you have lived through it and changed. Perhaps this was in part due to the album photography by Serbia based artist David Stanley which features combinations of blue skies, sea views and architecture. That, however, is just the beginning of this journey.
The album opens with Habit Control a multilayered funky track. The anticipation builds up and That Strange Summer breezes in. This tune has a haunting saxophone and feels slightly filmic, Hitchcockian almost. Sugarwork has a stong electronic element and track 3 After The Forest, The Sky has a drum and bass sound which took me by surprise. It wouldn’t sound out-of-place sampled in a club. The kind of tune you might hear Gilles Peterson play on the radio. I find myself cranking up the volume. This is abruptly followed by the sound of some kind of breakdown in Bad Data, an intense, loud exploration of sounds. On first listen I was bewildered but after a few listens this track grew on me and will now be the sound of every banking crisis that happens (in my mind at least).
Track 5 Goodbye Hello showcases Phil Bancroft on saxophone and is my favourite track on the CD. The sensitive sax playing is life affirming and keeps the listener grounded. It is a melodic, emotional track with great percussion sounds particularly cymbals. It reminds me of some tracks on Tommy Smith’s Karma album (which is one of my all time favourites). Short Story Long is an introspective track with loads of space in it and again great use of percussion. Spiral Confection is pacy, swirling and ends with heavy guitar sounds, again quite funky. The journey continues onto track 8 The Stairs which has lots going on in it. It is a short track with layers which sound like gunfire ricocheting off of buildings in the distance. What kind of summer is this I ask myself? Perhaps this track is the first glimmer that summer is coming to an end or that we have arrived at the epicentre of our transformation and now will begin to grow into something different.
Astralgia, the penultimate track is a Gong-like epic track that builds up and allows you to get lost in it and reflect upon your experience. I can imagine this one being played live. The kind of track that the whole audience experiences vividly, something similar to when I heard Phil Bancroft play Sonny Rollins Freedom Suite at Playtime in Edinburgh. The last track The End One Day is a short track that has beautiful airy guitar sounds and brings the album to a satisfying close.
Sugarwork feels very contemporary. The thirst for enquiry, the musical experience and professionalism of the musicians is evident in the variety and production of tunes on this album as well as the attention they pay to the artwork and visuals (a video for After The Forest, The Sky is coming soon). Parts of it would work really well for DJs to sample. I haven’t heard anything like it before but there are enough points of reference for me to enjoy it and clever use of melody makes it satisfying. It takes the listener on a journey which is not always comfortable but has many highlights along the way. Sugarwork is something quite special.
Sugarwork will release their debut album Sugarwork on the first of June 2018. You can preview it here. Sugarwork are Paul Harrison (keyboards, piano, production, editing and mixing) Phil Bancroft (Tenor Saxophone), Graeme Stephen (guitar) and Stuart Brown (drums and percussion).