Jazz prog album reviews column

Sid Smith rounds up the best releases from prog’s jazzier reaches with releases from Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, Samuel Hällkvist, Erik Honoré, Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana

Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s Theta Three album artwork

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

Had Pink Floyd’s live disc of _Ummagumma _taken a jazzy detour the results could resemble much of the Sheffield-based Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s _Theta Three _(Discus Records). Led and conducted by sax/ keyboardist, Martin Archer, this two-disc collection of improvised and composed pieces is permeated with a spacey, psychedelic effervescence. Brooding, bass-saturated landscapes, arcs of echoing electronics, thickets of ruminative horns, terse violin arrangements and chilly drifts of Mellotron create an immersive world that evokes the analogue spirit and tonalities of early minimalism and capacious mind expanding playfulness of Kosmische Musik’s pioneers.

It’s no surprise that luminaries such as David Torn, Phil Manzanera, and Richard Barbieri sing the praises of Swedish guitarist Samuel Hällkvist. Variety Of Rhythm (Boogiepost Recordings) is a continuous 45-minute suite placing bold, contrasting themes that slip smoothly between formal composition, kinetic electro-acoustic explorations, noir-ish soundtracks and flashes of post-rock grandeur. Intense textures, colours and dynamics provide compelling listening.

Joined by a stellar cast of Norwegian players, Erik Honoré’s Unrest (Hubro) is an impressive collage drawn from live recordings. Honoré, who has previously worked with David Sylvian and Brian Eno, has suffused the music with a delicate, crepuscular light. Hushed and hesitant, it seeps into consciousness as if from a dream state, hovering amid gentle fronds of reversed sounds, whispered vocals and ghostly piano. Beautiful, if at times uneasy listening, this is a quietly magical album.

Alice Coltrane and Carlos Santana’s 1974 collaboration Illuminations (Vocalion) positively glows on this SACD reissue. Engineer Michael Dutton’s peerless remastering of this quad mix is simply breathtaking. The extra depth found in swirling string sections, Coltrane’s piano and harp and Santana’s stratospheric, sustained notes imbues this album with a whole new level of glittering detail. The racing turbulence of Angel Of Sunlight, in which a full band, propelled by Dave Holland and Jack Dejohnette’s rhythm section, appeared somewhat earthbound and compressed in the original mix. Here, however, the spatial placement of instruments reveals previously obscured elements of the score and interplay that’s nothing short of a revelation as the entire ensemble take flight on their way to spiritual bliss.

Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson (MOV) might be 46 years old but on this beautifully remastered vinyl edition, with restored original artwork, it remains fresh and vital. Titanic, elemental forces that would shape much of what followed in jazz rock are decisively harnessed during Right Off. Billy Cobham and Michael Henderson’s driving grooves enable John McLaughlin’s wild, splintering chords to generate the perfect setup for Davis’ jabbing, pugilistic entrance. Fiercely inventive, it still stands as one the trumpeter’s greatest moments. Absolutely essential.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.