Album Review: Menagerie – The Arrow Of Time

Out today (February 9th_ on Freestyle Records is the new album from Menagerie, led by prolific Australian Lance Ferguson, the creative force behind projects such as The Bamboos, Cookin’ on 3 Burners, Lanu and Black Feeling. With this new album, The Arrow of Time, he has drawn inspiration from themes such as space exploration and human evolution, and has already found favour with Jamie Cullum, Don Letts and the great Giles Peterson.

The album opens with evolution, featuring Fallon Williams, and it mixes modal and spiritual jazz, with long horn solos and a gospel sounding backing vocals/synths, and these funk filled brass lines over the changes. Over the top Williams vocal is spoken – preaching almost, on that very theme of evolution. The title track follows on, and after its opening breakdown, its more standard in approach, less of the funk and gospel (although it isn’t absent by any means), more of the straight up jazz, with the instrumentalists – particularly piano, impressive as they pass solos over to one another.

Escape Veloicity opens with this expansive piano riff which underpins the whole track, before the horns take it and expand it even further. It has this afro-cuban drumming that shuffles underneath, while the brass fire fast and funky riffs over the top and the solos once again sparkle. Spiral is a slower shuffle, the close harmonies and homogenous movement giving it this more funk rock feel, that develops over time into this contemporary big band sound. The album closes with Nova, and hints of E.S.T. as it’s piano led (brilliantly) before this Sun Ra sax blows over the top. It’s spellbinding stuff.

In the seeming explosion of jazz these days, with Gregory Porter at one edge and the more leftfield of Kamasi Washington, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and Snarky Puppy, Menagerie sits firmly at the side of Kamasi, but with enough elements of the Porter and the like to be relevant and widely appreciated. There’s more than a hint to the record of Strata East, Tribe and Black Jazz, but also Kudo – there are moments of Idris Muhammad and his funk-jazz ilk in there as well. What Lance Ferguson and Menagerie have done well, is pulled all of those into a really good, really accessible and interesting jazz record.

The Arrow of Time is out now on Freestyle Records – LP / CD / Digital (FSR122)

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