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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Friday, 14 June 2019 17:44

Andrew McCormack’s Graviton - The Calling

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Jubilant Jungian Jazz.

I first came across keyboardist Andrew McCormack’s playing through his work in the Kyle Eastwood Band over the last decade - he’s very much the secret sauce behind Eastwood’s rise into the mainstream, I believe - but I hadn't listened to his own compositions much until now. 

I am glad I did. The Calling - compositions portraying the classical idea of the heroic call to adventure which leads to devastating consequences - is a rich album, a neat mixture of vocals and instrumentals, and one which is far from tragic.

The inspiration for this album is an interesting one. McCormack in the liner notes writes: “a huge thank you to Dr Jordan B. Peterson for blowing my mind with your online lectures and laying the foundations for what would later become this music.”

For those not in the know, Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychology professor who has been smeared by self-styled social justice warriors as a far-right ideologue because he spoke up against state-imposed restrictions on free speech in his country. More recently in the UK, he came to prominence with his book 12 Steps for Life - a sort of self-help book cum introduction to Carl Jung - and a car-crash ‘gotcha’ interview in which he bested Channel Four’s Cathy Newman.

Such is the febrile nature of the online world and the modern trend for virtue signalling by artists, that I wouldn’t be surprised if McCormack gets flack from ‘concerned’ reviewers and musicians online, and is pushed - like a medieval heretic - to recant, make an online apology and express his guilt for finding inspiration in what Peterson has to say.

He shouldn’t. Not just because McCormack can read whatever he wants. But because reading Peterson’s work on Jungian archetypes and other topics has generated a great album and pushed the pianist to create a super suite of songs and contemplations on the idea of ’the hero’ in the modern world.

The Graviton band features Noemi Nuti on vocals, Josh Arcoleo on tenor saxophone, Tom Herbert on electric bass and Joshua Blackmore on drums. 

The prologue track draws on the idea of the Uroboros - a primitive creation myth, which McCormack presents through the twelve tones of the circle of fifths; these intervals create an unnerving, brooding opening, suggesting of a hero about to enter the underworld, and form a theme through the album. 

What we enter in track two is a Walled Garden, which is a joyful, verdant place in which Nuti vocalises over an insistent piano motif. It’s charming, but there’s an edginess in the tunes as the chords warp and weave, particularly when Arcoleo’s sax comes in.

The title track is a fanfare for a heroic quest, Nuti singing “You are made for far more than you think for." McCormack’s keyboard sounds add extra heft alongside the piano, and Herbert’s simple but effective bass provides a strong counterpoint to Nuti’s voice; it also has a brilliant mini drum break by Blackmore about half way in.

There are a lot of contrasting moods. Magic Mentor is all soundscapes and echoes introducing a slow track with a playful, not overly dramatic keyboard voice and a pared back rhythm section; whereas Crossing the Threshold is more dramatic, with a thunderstorm of piano chords that drifts into a dreamlike trance with more ethereal vocals from Nuti, suggestive of a classical hero at a crossroads. 

The King is Blind is foot-tappingly, itch-inducingly catchy. Nuti’s stunning main vocal motif is matched by a simple rising pattern from Arcoleo. Fork in the Road brings the tempo right down. The snazziest piano sounds are on Belly of The Whale (an analogy for the lowest, darkest place of self-discovery which all heroes must enter), which has a cinematic quality, a very open soundscape and the simplest of repetitive motifs building, building, building. Super track.

The album ends with the hero transforming himself through a confrontation with a Dragon that leads to personal transformation and redemption, with the Returning.

Less a concept album, more an aural picture-scape, The Calling aspires to greatness: the themes it touches are some of the most fundamental, oldest stories and archetypes which humanity has created, and the music seeks to match that. It is certainly attention-seeking and thought inducing, and amalgamates some cracking tunes and band playing into a very pleasing tale.

Graviton has gravitas and guts, and listeners should be thrilled to join the quest.

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