If you go looking for Ansonia in the dictionary you won’t find it, it has no meaning - it’s a made-up word. Where there is real meaning, however, is the album itself, which represents bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado’s debut. And quite a debut it is too.
With his first collection of compositions (all except track 8, a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s September), what Mullov-Abbado demonstrates most is variety. In moods, tempos, orchestration. This is like a jazz selection box, but with no hard centres! All of the compositions show a nod to different aspects of the jazz pantheon, but few seem derivative at all. Mullov-Abbado seems like he has composition down pat after one album!
To share his musical vision he pulled together a who’s-who of London’s young talents. Matthew Herd on sax; Tom Green on trombone, Jacob Collier on piano and Fender Rhodes, plus Scott Chapman on drums. Throw in Nick Goodwin on guitar, James Davison on trumpet, Matthew Barley on cello and his mother, Viktoria Mullova on violin, on selected tracks, and you can see why it would be be difficult for Mullov-Abbado’s solo effort to be a dud.
The listening experience is good, with a lovely job on the recording by producer Julian Joseph and engineer Alex Kilpatrick, getting the balance just right. The listener will find lots of good nourishing things on these nine tracks. Opener Circle Song offers up a pastoral feel, birds chirping in the background as Mullov-Abbado’s bass introduces the lovely motif at the heart of the track before the sax and trombone slide in. Very relaxing, the sort of track to which one should sit and watch clouds go by. Lock, Stock & Shuffle shifts mood completely, taking the listener back to Soho in the sixties, it’s Brit-swing style worthy as a soundtrack to any cool London movie from that era. Foot-tappingly compulsive stuff with great soloing from Herd.
Title track New Ansonia - named after a house, not some mystical sylvan land - skips moods again, with Goodwin’s funky guitar introducing a jumpy piano-bass combo that brought to mind instantly Avishai Cohen at his most inventive. Tremendously upbeat in tone, it’s a showcase for the talents in the band to shine at various times and moves along apace with a groovy intent with the guitar … Wow! So simple yet effective on this track.
There are plenty of other positive options on the rest of the album. Ode to King Michael starts off with a cacophony of voices, instrument tuning up, horses (yes!) before evolving into a modernist soundscape that does, nevertheless, have real heart and soul in it, despite the lack of simple melody. And the wonderfully named Satan, Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas, keeps up this modernist bent, with a treacle-off-a-spoon tempo and simple harmonies, arrhythmic and atonal solos and unusual percussive arrangements, suggesting Mullov-Abbado has some Philip Glass tucked away in his record collection.
A strong statement from Mullov-Abbado, who displays with this album sufficient punch to show he’ll be around for a long-time. Not instantly accessible, perhaps, this album deserves a couple of plays to let it grow on you.