Matt Carmichael
Where Will The River Flow



by HelloJoe USER (8 Reviews)
November 2nd, 2021 | 4 replies

Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A terrific debut which combines Scottish trad and jazz lead by the creative saxophonist Matt Carmichael.

Matt Carmichael is a 21 year-old saxophonist from Lenzie, Scotland. This is his debut album as band leader and is titled Where Will The River Flow. Blending trad melodies with jazz inflections, this fusion album is a tremendous album that I come back to regularly. It sports excellent musicianship from a band that bounce off one another incredibly well.

Kicking off the album is ‘Sognsvann’, named after the same lake in Norway, the song is a steady body. Carmichael’s saxophone sweeps through a folk melody, joined soon after by sprinkles of percussion and bright, ethereal piano courtesy of another young Scottish jazz talent. Fergus McCreadie, a band leader in his own right, lends his keys as the album’s pianist and brings ferocious solos and whimsical flourishes to the songs herein. What stands out in this first track, and is very much persistent throughout the compositions is a tendency toward folk compositions - memorable melodies that you can hum are rounded by improvisations that bring the two worlds together.

‘The Spey’ is perhaps the most prominent in demonstrating the marriage of these two styles. The song opens with an up-tempo trad jig. It’s novel enough to hear a jig performed with the leading melody on saxophone but the solos within dynamically shift the focus from trad to jazz, sweeping into an extended solo from McCreadie before Carmichael takes his turn, delivering a roaring roundhouse of blazing lines before a reprieve - a momentary refrain. Then, the song kicks right back into the song’s resounding melody for a splendid finale.

This technique is used across a number of the compositions. Carmichael has a great knack for not only performance but also recursion of melody. I love ‘Hopeful Morning’s steady rise and the use of the leading melody as a tension breaker. When the song first starts, the leading line is played softly by Carmichael. The improvisation that followed contradicts the soft melody with wild ambiguity, a strenuous duel of sax and keys before finally exploding back to the leading line with an extra punch of striking harmony! It’s really fantastic and one of my favourite pieces on the album.

Enough has been said already about Carmichael and McCreadie but the rhythm section deliver terrific delights of their own. Tom Potter on drums is a great percussionist who I am very fond of. He plays with a very balanced and careful hand. The introduction of ‘Firth’ hears him perform on toms with a gentle hand, tapping tenderly on the kick drum and rustling the cymbals with brushes. Elsewhere on ‘The Spey’, he is cracking the snare and pounding the crash cymbals with ferocity. I love his dynamics and acute attention to detail.

Ali Watson on double bass also brings an earthy balance to Carmichael and McCreadie’s whimsy. A breezy bass solo on ‘Hopeful Morning’ is a delightful strut and the albums ‘Interlude’ finds him bow in hand bringing a foggy ambience that is texturally rich. Perhaps my favourite is ‘Dear Grandma’ where he follows McCreadie’s piano lines, giving them a harmonic bounce.

It’s all delivered by a great effort from the masters and mixers - Michael Scherchen and James McMillan. The album has a great dynamic range with tactile textures. I think ‘Firth’ best demonstrates the work that has been done to get the most out of the instrument’s sounds. As previously mentioned, Tom Potter plays with a certain delicacy on the track’s opening. When Carmichael on sax finally arrives, it is layered atop the other instruments. Carmichael plays for a moment in this husky breath. There's a lovely sense of depth here that distinguishes the soft patter of Potter’s drums against the listless hush of the saxophone. I really like it and moments such as this are present throughout the album.

Collectively, it’s one of my favourite albums of the year. An uplifting jazz album with memorable tunes and excellent musicianship. I love the quartet that Carmichael has put together and I think they play beautifully together. I look forward to hearing what extremes this union of trad and jazz may bring. Live videos hinted at a fifth element - the fiddle being brought in, and it would be interesting to hear the boundaries pushed again.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Staff Reviewer
November 3rd 2021


Nice review. Will check this, sounds interesting.

November 3rd 2021


On the second track right now

Nice vibes

Great review btw pos

November 3rd 2021


Album Rating: 4.0

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying the album. It's a very uplifting and bright album.

Check out their live performances, too. They play very nicely together.

May 22nd 2022


Album Rating: 4.0

Matt is putting out a new album later this year called Marram. Fiddle player Charlie Stewart, who has been joining them on tour, will be playing on the album.

Live performance from this year:

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