Album Review: Flame Tree Ft Nik Turner

Flame Tree - Flame Tree

Original Hawkwind Saxophonist and flautist Nik Turner recently joined Seattle-based experimental jazz ensemble Flame Tree (Dennis Rea on guitar, Paul “PK” Kemmish on bass, and Jack Gold-Molina on drums) for an unexpected way-out album of improvisation and freaky free form adventure. Jack Gold-Molina, who played in Spectral Waves with Dennis Rea, in the autumn of 2009 when he interviewed Turner for All About Jazz magazine. Unsurprisingly the two men ended up jamming and collaborating and appeared at Seattle’s Seaprog Festival last August. The Seattle trio are all energy and exuberance, apparently up for anything Turner may throw their way.

“Nik was really enthusiastic about doing this project from the beginning,” says Jack Gold-Molina. “His creative approach has always been to bring free jazz to rock and roll, which was what he brought to Hawkwind in the early 1970s, and then with Inner City Unit, Sphynx, and Space Ritual. He had been wanting to stretch out and play something with real jazz form to it for a long time, so we put a band together with musicians who also have a free jazz background, as well as prog and experimental. The chemistry between Nik and I worked immediately, from the first demo sessions that he and I did as a duo. We knew exactly what we wanted to do musically, and we talked about it at length. Once Flame Tree came together with Dennis Rea and Paul Kemmish, everything began to flow naturally.”

75-year-old Turner simply loves to play above all else, anywhere, with anyone, even if it means busking outside his local pub on a slow evening. His manic energy is a little frightening as he pours a wider range of emotion into his playing than some of his countrymen were even born with. Rea’s guitar and Turner’s sax struggle for supremacy early on but manage to peacefully coexist. “Mosquito” is appropriately named, sounding as it does like a swarm of mosquitoes during a seventeen-year cicada infestation chasing a herd of disgruntled elephants on an echoey plain while someone nearby tries to pick up signals on a ham radio. Whatever happens around them, Gold-Molina and Kemmish have the unflappable solidity of a bouncer at a shady Liverpool bar at 2 a.m.

Much on Flame Tree would appeal to John Zorn fans who like noisy chaos, avant-garde freakouts, and whatever the saxophone equivalent to shredding is, but there is also drony fusion on “Past Lives,” laid-back coolness on “In the Distance,” and delicate flute-dominated musings and fantastic guitar work on closing track “Wild Flower” that wouldn’t have been out of place on a hazy summer night at the UFO Club in 1967.

Flame Tree Featuring Nik Turner is available now through Cleopatra Records.

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