He’s rightly regarded as one of the UK’s top saxophone players and has certainly recorded some great albums up to this point, but it could be that - by shooting his music through the prism of an orchestra - Tim Garland's created his greatest composition yet.
The filmic quality to the compositions is due to the presence of the 35 piece English Session orchestra. Its string fills out the space in Abbey Road studios beautifully, as heard on first track Rugged Land - stomping strings concur up images of fell walking and dry stone walls, with Garland’s sax as unpredictable as the weather. This is orchestral jazz, so there’s little real swing or bop to it, and it is somewhat tempered in mood, but it is precisely that controlled environment that creates the compositional beauty. The orchestra doesn’t overpower - it empowers.
Alongside his regular collaborators - pianist Jason Rebello and bassist Yuir Goloubev, Garland adds a second piano perspective with German pianist Pablo Held along with the orchestra. Held is Garland says, “a harmony-head like me.” It shows.
The Sky is an Empty Mirror is heavy on melancholy, as Goloubev’s double bass trudges, one foot after the other as if climbing a mountain, after which the music tip toes across the musical landscape on the way down in front of the simplest - most haunting - of string landscapes. That same, looming feel to the music is found on Gaia’s Presence, the tremelo and urgency of the string’s hinting at something dramatic until the tension is cut through by Garland’s sweet, sweet sound.
The Lady in the North is a great showcase for Rebello’s lustrous, easy piano playing, which provides a soft meadow of wildflower notes through which Garland’s sax gambols playfully - there’s sunshine throughout this track that warms and soothes the soul. What would on any normal album be a great ballad becomes, with the addition of an orchestra, a tour de force of cinematic intensity as deep as the valleys of the Lake District.
There is at the root of much of the music the folk sounds of traditional songs, which Garland has rearranged, making this the very epitome of an English jazz album, which you feel as the early melodic roots shine through in places, like the colours of an old master painting in the midst of restoration.
Angry Sun, on the other hand, has an experimental, choppy feel, a hint of thundercloud on the horizon, as the strings pick up pace and Goloubev’s bass strikes solemn, urgent notes, imploring the players to pick up the pace. Garland’s sax here is wrought and passion-filled, with some lovely runs and trills that cry out to be listened to. Magic Box - all breathy playing and pizzicato strings - is a light confection but nonetheless exciting, especially when Garland ventures out on a limb, harmonically speaking.
‘Naturally cinematic’ says the press release. Full marks to the press team, they absolutely hit the mark with that description. This is stirring music - a soundtrack, in effect - where the quartet sound is picked up by the breeze of the orchestra and swirled around, to really make you feel you’re out there in the fresh air of the fells, marvelling at nature and smiling at the happy frolicking of a new-born lamb in a Wordsworthian sylvan paradise, where music seems as natural as bird song.
What Garland has created is a paean to the Lake District that moves, thrills and calms - a romantic poem in music, that shows the depths that jazz and instrumental music can achieve, with the right creative mind behind them.