…and I’m still trying to make up my mind about it – is it great, or merely very good? I’m getting used with this artist to reserving judgement for quite some time, following my encounter with his Tetraband (drums, electric bass, trombone and way too much electric keyboard from the man himself) a couple of years ago, where I positively hated the live performance and then was completely captivated by the album. But this is his first solo album since 2000’s Solobsession, which is still one of my top Desert Island Discs; when the man can supply the bass, the rhythm and a couple of lead lines with just his own two hands, who needs a band, and how can this new album, Soul Shelter, be anything but wonderful?
First impressions… Fewer pyrotechnics, less playing inside and outside the piano simultaneously and fewer occasions on which he’s playing two completely separate melody lines; not that there’s none of it (see the video below for some examples) but it’s a lot more subtle and less flashy. Beautifully recorded. Less explicit Balkan influence, which is a shame. More meditative, more gentle – rather more classical influence, I think, as it tends to remind me in places of Keith Jarrett’s Koeln Concert (but rather more controlled and directed). All original songs, apart from a nice Duke Ellington cover – and, more significantly, all songs that appear on this album for the first time, whereas one of the highlights for me of Solobsession was the reworking of songs he’d originally performed with a full band.
All of which is, I suppose, just to say that this isn’t Solobsession II, much as part of me might like that, and it isn’t an ‘event’ album. It’s certainly a grower – various tunes are setting up permanent residence in my brain – and it will be interesting to see how I feel about this album in, say, a year’s time; not so much when the novelty’s worn off, as when my mild disappointment at the lack of instant fireworks has faded a bit.
What I really want is for him to play a solo concert within easy reach of Bristol in the near future…