The concept of the ‘super-group’ is one that, thankfully, remains confined to rock-centric circles; it is, in a nutshell, a loose partnership of musicians from other bands who aren’t quite able to scratch the itch where they are at the moment; usually the singer and guitarist with the rhythm section plucked from who ever is available. Whether or not the results of these collaborations are worth the time of day is not for me to say – you can disappear down that particular rabbit hole here if you are so inclined. But it is a phenomenon that tends not to exist among musicians who operate in other genres: otherwise it’s a safe bet that Szun Waves would be featuring on that Wiki page.
The trio was brought together by Luke Abbott, probably best known for his pastoral techno album Holkham Drones and his dancefloor-blitzing pseudonym Earlham Mystics. Abbott had worked with Jack Wyllie, the saxophonist of the Portico Quartet previously but they linked up with Laurence Pike, drummer with PVT (who we’ve featured previously) to create Szun Waves. The simple act of replacing the discipline of programmed beats with Pike’s fluid, jazzy drums brought a whole new dimension to Abbott’s analogue synths.
On the first album, the trio sounded like a continuation of Abbott’s previous work, and that was understandable as he was the driving force behind the collaboration and was responsible for the editing and mix, and all three were finding their feet. The return fixture sets its stall out as a more confident and balanced work from the opening bars of “Constellation” which is all Wyllie’s reeds and Pike’s percussion, Abbott happy to provide the background atmospherics. It’s an approach that they stick to throughout most of New Hymn To Freedom which means it is very much part of the new wave of British jazz rather than an electronic album with extras.
At Sacred Walls was a solid album, sure, but New Hymn To Freedom has been visited by the muse, and is a truly inspired and inspirational work. Edited and assembled from hours of improvisation, it could have easily tipped over into direction-free indulgence but it never feels as if it’s slipping out of control – Pike and Abbott find a groove on “Temple” that enables Wyllie to explore, but he always comes back to his theme. What could be a difficult work – and I realise I’ve used several words that could put people off, like “jazz”, “improvised”, and “analogue synths” turns out to be a very approachable record. They may not be listed as a super-group but they have created an album that fits the bill. It is superb. (Jeremy Bye)