ALBERT’S FAVOURITES is a label bringing the sounds of the South London scene to the world with heart; genuine heart, and care, and soul, in all iterations of that word.
One only need look at the label’s name, and the tribute it pays. I’ve written about this before but it is worth reprising, since it says much about the spirit in which the label operates: Albert, why, that’s Adam’s grandad, who adored making sure that journeys for family holidays had a soundtrack tape amassed from the faves of the past few months. In the car, pop in the tape – “Albert’s Favourites”. Voila. How can you not approve?
We last heard from Scrimshire wearing his recording artist chapeau last November, with Believers Vol. 1, our review for which is available via a click just there; it’s a response to 2020 and the privations of lockdown. As we all did to orders of magnitude, that purdah gave time for reflection and maybe a subtle recasting of purpose; the world stopped and we did kinda get off, at least internally; and as Adam said of that record: “Believers Vol.1 represents warmth and hope. Everyone I worked with early in lockdown seemed to want to express those longings for physical and emotional connection too. The whole album reaches out; I think it’s full of long embraces.
“But it is also, for me personally a love letter to black music and the black artists that shaped everything I care about sonically, from my very first memories of music until now.”
It was a record I was at first intrigued by, then rather taken by, then fell for pretty deeply; it washed my brain clean, it’s inspiring and lovely and reminds you there are good things to be had. “If any of the aural worlds spinning off British soul-jazz are your thing, you need this record to bring its balm,” I concluded.
Now he’s returned, but not with a second volume of the Believers series; he mooted last year that part the second might go deeper, darker, than the first; present the flipside, the contrast. I asked him about this – where does Nothing Feels Like Everything sit with that ongoing project?
“So I had set out to do Vol. 2 and that album still sits half-finished on my computer,” he replied. “I wanted to follow immediately, make it a kind of split double album. I was toying with the idea of it being a dark side, yin yang, flip of the warm positivity of Vol. 1. To express that I find myself often split between those two states as a writer.
“I am drawn to dark, heavy music as much as more soulful sounds. I was equally worried that that would just throw people off and be confusing.
“But anyway, somewhere in the process as I continued writing regardless, something more peaceful and calming, a little folk influenced, more jazz influenced and a more instrumental record started coming through in my writing. It just never felt like it was a ‘Believers’ record. I thought it would be a little ‘throw it out there’, in-between record, then I’d pick up immediately with proper songs and singles straight after … build up to Vol. 2.
“But I now wonder if I can come back from this to revisit the more soulful, punchy music I created, which is sitting there almost finished, with collaborations and vocals and all sorts already done. We’ll have to see. I worry about confusing people too much. I also really enjoy the sound I’ve found myself in with Nothing Feels Like Everything.”
There we are; 2021 looks a whole lot different to how we all hoped – I mean, it was all gonna be over by Easter last year, pretty much, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? Sunlit, those uplands of 2021. Life, as John Lennon summated it, “is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
And Nothing Feels Like Everything come from that surreal, topsy-turvy otherworld we’ve still very much got one foot in, as Adam explains: “So many of us head out into the world post-lockdown with a different perspective. Nothing Feels Like Everything looks at how the absence of something can be just as overwhelming, whether the absence of physical contact, the absence of love, the absence of empathy and respect.
“This album uses gentleness beside power and cacophony to recreate the vast swings of emotion experienced in isolation. When nothing can be too much, while at the same time, all we want.
Nine tracks in all comprise this, Scrimshire’s sixth; there’s only four with full vocal contributions, so expect an instrumental journey. And expect a beautiful one, that gathers in contributions from within the Albert’s Favourites family, such as Soothsayers’ Idris Rahman, Huw Marc Bennett, Miryam Solomon, Pie Eye Collective, and without: gilt-edged names such as Cleveland Watkiss and Ursula Rucker.
Nothing Feels Like Everything opens with “The Pile”, featuring none other than British black music legend Cleveland Watkiss – I mean, this tells you something about the respect with which Scrimshire is afforded in the music sphere, that an artist of such stature can drop by to open the record. (Look at a list of who he’s worked alongside and be genuinely dazzled). It’s a slow burn, a stout bongo superstructure gradually garlanding with a crisp and twangy guitar riff, beautiful strings that swirl and suddenly plunge. Enter Cleveland, and he’s got this, in the way Horace Andy did with Massive Attack’s “Hymn Of The Big Wheel”: effortlessly perfect, inhabiting the song with elan. Like this song was always there, waiting to be conducted down into our heads. He brings a subtle message of empowerment, cools the temperature with his honeyed vocals across an eight-minute odyssey that feels too short, that keeps unfolding like some ever-budding flower. Don’t mistake the power of, the anger in, his message though; it’s just delivered with grace. I love the way it mellows down in a little scatting rise and fall.
Miryam Solomon, London based by way of Sweden and Eritrea, guested on Huw Marc Bennett’s Tresilian Bay, an Albert’s Favourites nugget of deep Welsh/Afro-jazz, last summer; and my, the textures she brings to “Heron”, a song for moonlight and feather fans, art nouveau-luxurious, harp glissando and all; her vocal deep and creamy, edge of whisper intimate, singing a deep nocturne. There’s an air of something really 1930s’ Hollywood about that slower break, which chimes in a lovely way with the strings and electric piano and all-round opulence herein. That’s romantic, capital R.
So, two tracks in, and that’s half the vocal tracks passed; fear not, as reed player extraordinaire Idris Rahman brings some beautiful embouchure to “In Circles”, which has a fusion progginess kept well in check by flute beauty. Think, maybe, Jaga Jazzist tempered by Pharoah Sanders sailing on the Blue Nile. It’s short, so very sweet, and bookends perfectly with the more intimate “I Hear You, I See You”, a candlelit swing graced by the liquidity of Nat Birchall’s astonishing spiritual sax lines and the Faye Houston adding just the right touch of complementary vocals. Complex, nuanced, but healing.
“Within Without”, the title allowing an Eastern spirituality, is a lush string- and snare-driven canvas for renowned keys player Jessica Lauren to bring a deep, bold vamping to, painting in Seventies jazz-funk colours across an elegant track which could dial up into verdant, psychedelic-soul drum and bass; it chooses not to, because it has other missions for your soul, but 4 Hero spring to mind; which is quite the thing, since it’s Ursula Rucker, the American poet who guided 4 Hero’s cracking “Loveless” into the stratosphere, who brings her science to a quietly affecting “Boldly”, full of space, meditative, centred; her delivery by turns, rich, crisp, sweet as a honeybee, full of truths, looking down on it all as we spin through inner and outer space. “We’ll figure this shit out … let’s keep going,” she urges.
“Morning Affirmation” seems to answer Believers Vol.1‘s “Transformation”; it refuses to be hassled, takes you by the hand for a glide through some spiritual, extremely laidback, loping deep jazz groove, sorta of the same rhythmic pattern and bpm as Boards of Canada might employ, transposed to analogue; a woodblock clicking here, a retro synth humming there. It does exactly what the title promises; it affirms, makes the jolt into a day easier. Shower, first coffee, this, and life will be better.
Idris Rahman shapes his lyrical lips once more for “Love In Dreams”, a more contrasting essay in hallucinatory jazz. Beginning in some dizzying compound time, it plays out at the edge of the pocket with depth and intelligence, flutes in support, never tipping outside but teasing, exploring, whirling you around with glee. It touches the beyond, the intense, before swallow-swooping back in for a layered climax that expires, breathes with satisfaction as it hushes. It’s strong, you’re borne aloft with it like a leaf on the autumn wind.
Bristol’s Matthew Gordon, who records as Pie Eye Collective and who released a fantastically trippy, intricate, very personal vision of future beats, Salvation, a month back, comes by to lend that 4D sound vision to the closer, “Discussion”; that conversation taking place between Scrimshire’s electric piano warmth and somnolence, and the subaquatic orbing and glimmer that Matthew brings to the party: little luminous sound beings from the Mariana Trench, dazzling and phosphorescent. You just know this track would work at 20 minutes plus, cos it’s beautiful like that Irresistible Force mix of “Autumn Leaves”, sheer sonic joy, cooling the tempo, ready for happily heavy lids.
Nothing Feels Like Everything may not be the album you were expecting next from Scrimshire – it sounds as if maybe, it wasn’t the album Adam was expecting either. But it is the right album, the album that needed to be articulated, an album for the 2021 which decided it was just gonna be 2020 with added grind; it reminds us to be proud and strong, keep looking forward, eyes on the good and true things, while also offering psychedelic souljazz balm for your bruised soul.
Scrimshire’s latest sits seamlessly within a lineage that stretches back through the luxurious, string-laden future breaks of 4 Hero, Nuyorican Soul to Minnie Riperton and Wanda Robinson and Roy Ayers, Rotary Connection et al. It’s a seductive listen that already has the feel of an album that has much to reveal over time, and only over time. Come tarry inside me, it whispers. And aren’t they the best records? Slow release, no sugar high. Soulfood. A wholly recommended record with a humanistic, beating heart.
Scrimshire’s Nothing Feels Like Everything is out now digitally and on vinyl from Albert’s Favourites. Head over to Bandcamp forthwith.