Album Review: Chelsea Carmichael – The River Doesn’t Like Strangers


Adam Jollah

The Breakdown

An album that gets right under your skin and blocks out everything going on as it transports you away on a soft carpet of jazz.
9.0

Engineered at London’s iconic RAK studios by Will Purton and recorded with Eddie Hick (Sons of Kemet), Dave Okumu (The Invisible) and Tom Herbert (The Invisible; Polar Bear), The River Doesn’t Like Strangers from start to finish is jazz mastery at its finest. Produced by Shabaka Hutchings and released via his Native Rebel Recordings, a new label formed with Metropolis Songs’ Matt Smith. The title track was inspired by the words of Chelsea’s dad on the Rio Grande in Jamaica: the river that goes through the centre of his home village of Grants Level, in the parish of Portland.

Carmichael comments:

“I feel that the way that I play on this record draws inspiration from the lineage of black music
making and the Caribbean Diasporas,” Chelsea said of the album. “It only felt right to reference my own lineage, and what has always been inside me even before a saxophone was put in my
hands.”

There Is A Place (It’s Not Here) is the perfect intro for this album. Sparse and stirring as if waiting for some great thing to come along. That great thing being Carmichaels debut album that she delayed recording for fear of being pigeonholed stylistically by one album.

Second track ‘All We Know’ is a very bass rooted track with Carmichael skipping over the top. Mysterious noises abound from the guitar of David Okumu. A hint of violence seeps into the track with some over dubs of fighting and spoken word. ‘Noor’ is also very bass heavy featuring some lyrical style work with a walking bass line and Okumu making echo and noises.

‘Bone and Soil’ is smooth smooth jazz with some great bass work from Tom Herbert as Carmichael gets all lyrical with her sax. Gorgeous phrases that melt together as she plays around with the main theme. ‘Hiaro/Hadali’ is the same however its a gentler track that echos a morning spent slowly waking up.

The jumpiness of ‘Myraid’ gives an unsettling feel especially when the track takes on a free time arrangement. You can hear the Caribbean flavour that she mentions in the rhythms. Its the same with title track ‘The river Doesn’t Like Strangers a track that has a more sparse and pared back feel to it. Okumu drops in and out with some tasty licks as Carmichael lays a lazy melody.

A nod to Edward Wakili-Hick on the drums as he absolutely kills it on ‘There Is You And You’. A riveting performance that equally matches Carmichaels excitable playing and the blistering solo laid down by Okumu who plays out his skin. The whole track is electric with some of the best performances on the album.

‘The Healer’ is a mixture of smooth sax over jittery repetitive riffing from the guitar and bass. The track never really settles down even when Okumu takes over and runs up and down the fretboard creating some more magic before chaos reigns with everyone joining in.

Album closer ‘Fractals’ follows the mood of previous track ‘Hiaro/Hadali’ with a slow moving melody they close the album softly almost as is to lull you to sleep after a busy hour riding the musical waves.

This is an album that gets right under your skin and blocks out everything going on as it transports you away on a soft carpet of jazz. Theres a decline in the album from the upbeat early tracks of Bone and Soil and Myriad to then tail off with the final two songs of ‘Hiaro/Hadali’ and ‘Fractals’. Its an album thats meant to be listened to as it is with no particular track to take favour over the rest. Enjoy it as it was intended and you may find it to be your perfect album to unwind if not one of your favourite Jazz albums for a long while to come.

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