Monday, May 31, 2021

Andy Hay "Many Rivers"

scum stats: 500 copies, all covers hand-painted by Hay, mine came direct from UK label Jazzman which is apparently a sub-edition of 50 numbered with a "Jazzman" prefix and seemingly a different colorway than the other copies I find online. With a sewn-together 12 page booklet. Also came with a watercolor painting as an insert. 

Self-released and hand-painted is an almost guaranteed buy every damn time. Even if it's a total trainwreck, the idea of the artist/singer/band/whatever being the crazed conductor of said metaphorical locomotive just feels like a beautiful balance applied to the world. I wish it could be every release. Alas...

The promotional write-up for this album states that this is Hay's debut release and that his entire 38 years on earth were a lead up to the two days it took to record. Direct quote from Andy "This is my debut public representation of my soul." Damn, that's heavy. And yet I've never before felt that my appreciation (or un-appreciation) of an album could be a direct judgement of someone's soul. 

The collection of songs here is largely instrumental jazz, at points light and airy with very little tension or conflict to be derived from the groove. Easy listening without any negative connotations yet far from challenging. Impressive piano runs tend to lead the band, accomplished, a little bit of something for everybody in the effervescence of songs like "Lost Lonnie" and "Seasons."

Yet the album has consistent pivots back and forth to a more free, frenetic sound. "Many Rivers" hinges on a dissonant saxophone counter-played to non-metered drums, strong, powerful... commanding the import of something bigger than human existence. "Walking With Ali" borders on hypnotically meditative, plucked strings, subtly brushed drums and double bass grounding with expressive vocalizations. 

The duality between "light" and "free" is impressive and best displayed on album closer "Bass Is the Place"...all chiaroscuro flourishes slowly descending into a solitary bass progression repeated with simple contemplative tranquility verging on enlightenment. In an odd way, the closest comparison I can draw, both in how it sounds and how it makes me feel, is "Lividity" the closer on the Melvins 1994 album Stoner Witch.

While I've previously been reluctant to jump into jazz that is anything less than wild, the combination of the two varied elements (wild/less than) only seems to elevate the end result. The pairing of versatility with comparative skill is truly uncommon. Ultimately, it captures my attention, my interest, my praise and my respect. "Many Rivers" is worth your effort.