(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Theo Travis is a name that should be familiar to quite a few people interested in the current creative music scene. This brilliant sax and flute master has played with a number of world famous acts including Gong, Soft Machine, Porcupine Tree and The Tangent. He’s also collaborated on several CDs for his ambient project Cipher with Dave Sturt. With all of these other tasks, it’s amazing that he finds any time to do solo work but he’s released at least eight solo albums. All of them (well at least the ones I’ve heard) are worth checking out.
Double Talk is Theo’s most recent CD, released on the 33 Records label, which has also put out his previous albums. For this recording, he’s assembled quite an incredible band consisting of Mike Outram on guitars, Pete Whittaker on keyboards and Roy Dodds on drums. There’s also a special guest appearance by none other than Robert Fripp who appears on two cuts with his guitar soundscapes as well as some guitar.
For the most part, the music here is beautiful mellow jazz. I refuse to apply the term “smooth” because this is the kind of stuff that I wouldn’t mind hearing in the dentist’s office. The tracks have quite a bit of substance to them and some of them are quite lengthy. The longest one “Oblivionville” is what I would consider the centerpiece of the album goes through quite a few different moods, starting out with a nice duet with Fripp on the soundscapes and Theo on flute. The track gradually morphs into a slow vamp with some brilliant tenor sax work. Then somewhere in the middle the piece turns into something you might here on a Pink Floyd album with an impressive guitar solo from Outram. After a return to the ambient soundscapes, the piece goes into an upbeat mode for a short time. It’s just an excellent piece all around.
This is about how the entire album goes, there’s lots of variety and everything is welcome. A good section of the music here has the retro feel of early fusion or jazz-rock. Some of it reminds me of the band Nucleus at times. The really nice thing about this music is that Theo doesn’t hog the spotlight all the time. Everyone in the band is given a chance to show off his abilities. Even during a nice sax solo, one of the other guys can be heard wailing away behind him. Pete Whittaker’s Hammond excursions can be very trippy at times.
One of the things that surprised me on here was the cover version of “See Emily Play.” As usual, I was listening to the album for the first time without reading the liner notes and when this song came on I thought to myself “Hey, I recognize this tune! What’s he doing playing this?” It’s a very interesting rendition with some nice psychedelic touches. The vocal melodies are played on a sax with wah-wah and lots of delay. Very touching tribute to the late Syd Barrett.
I honestly don’t think I could come up with anything bad to say about this disc if I tried. There isn’t a single bad moment here at all. Theo has put together a solid band and written some very captivating music on Double Talk. Each time I’ve listened to it, the disc seems to just grow and grow on me. A true classic, and I’m not just saying that.
Theo Travis is perhaps best known to psych and progressive music fans as the sax and flute man for bands such as Gong and House Of Thandoy, and of course Porcupine Tree, where most notably he played on that band's classic Stupid Dream. But Travis is a major figure in the world of jazz, and his latest solo release, Double Talk, is very much from that genre.
The opener, "Ascending," reminded me in sound and feel of Gong's Zero To Infinitea album, with Travis' fluent playing taking the lead, supported by Pete Whittaker's smooth Hammond organ. Later, the other solo instrumentalist of the album, guitarist Mike Outram, enters, to provide a superb solo of held and double notes - echoes of Dave Gilmour here, I thought. "Oblivionville" is at 16m 16s by far the longest track on the album, with Robert Fripp on guitar soundscapes. An ethnic-sounding flute opens the track while Fripp's softly looping guitar notes imperceptibly enter. Then a saxophone comes in with real jazz attitude - smoky, late Saturday night sounds. Half way through the track Fripp's guitar-scapes return, slow and ambient, a good contrast to what has already gone. Then some beautiful bass clarinets enter, reminding the listener of John Surman, and a terrific shimmering Hammond. Chords and notes flow in waves. The last part of this mini-epic is structured and jazzy. This is a great track, a highlight of the album.
"The Relegation Of Pluto" is upbeat and slightly insane, with what sounds like a bass guitar accompaniment (although that's not listed on the album sleeve notes). Then a marvelously spacey Hammond arrives, with some guitar effects from Outram that reminded me of Daevid Allen on Gong's live track "Can You: You Can" from the Shapeshifter album. Great stuff! It all concludes with a growling sax solo from Travis. "The Endless Search" is a beautiful ambient interlude featuring more of Fripp's guitar textures, juxtaposed with peaceful flutes from Travis, playing here with great technical skill. String sounds augment the mix. "Pallendream" is very soft and floaty, with a wah-sax and Whittaker's Hammond making an effective combination. Fripp adds a subtle guitar here too.
"See Emily Play" is the oddity of the album. I suspect it was added to bring the late 'sixties vibe that Travis on occasion alludes to in this album, but to my ears this version of Syd Barrett's immortal classic is out of place. It flows quite nicely, but serves more to take the listener away from the sound-world of the album than to make any authentic contribution. "And So It Seemed" is a slow, waltz time jazz excursion, emotionally intense, perhaps a tiny bit over-wrought, but with some highly effective drumming. "Portobello 67" is a tune to conclude - groovy and Hammond-soaked, a suitably upbeat ending.
While Travis' jazz fans are going to love this album, his progressive and psych fans will find much to enjoy. The album is really good, challenges and soothes the listener in equal proportion, and is definitely one for repeated listening. Recommended.