James Lindsay – Torus: Album Review

Magical fusion of Scottish instrumental folk, experimental rock, jazz and ambient from Breabach bassist, James Lindsay.

Release Date:  23rd April 2021

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD / Digital (all platforms)

2021 is turning into a pretty fantastic year, music-wise, and I’ve just been enthralled by an album that is certainly yet another contender for my album of the year.  The album’s name is Torus, and it’s by James Lindsay, a name which, if it isn’t yet familiar to you, it certainly deserves to be.

Perhaps more familiar to some as the double bass player in the excellent Breabach, James is a truly outstanding composer and musician. He’s even got a cabinet full of awards and certificates to prove it, including a First Class BA (Honours) in Applied Music from Strathclyde University, the 2014 Martin Bennett prize for composition and first prize at the 2020 In Tune With Nature competition, as well as long string of award nominations both in his own name and as a part of Breabach.  But, as we all know, the proof of a musician is in his music and, with Torus, James makes it very clear that the acclaim he has received has been richly deserved.

James Lindsay with Breabach – Cropredy, August 2010

Torus is James’s second solo album, the follow-up to Strand, which was released in June 2018.  The music for Torus was written over a period of two years and its recording was completed during lockdown and James ran a successful Crowdfunder campaign to enable the recording to take place.  Produced by Euan Burton (Kris Drever/Siobhan Miller/Seafarers) at GlowWorm Recording in Glasgow, it’s a wonderful piece of work that features some of the finest cross-genre musicians in Scotland. In addition to James on bass guitar, electric guitar and Moog, we have Angus Lyon (accordion), Ben MacDonald (electric guitar), Jack Smedley (fiddle), John Lowrie (keyboard), Norman Wilmore (alto sax), Scott Mackay (drums) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion).  And it’s abundantly clear that each and every one of these musicians is a master.

James’s musical style is often described as genre-bending, and it’s impossible to think of a better description for the majestic, overwhelming quality and variety of the music offered here.  Experimental rock, jazz and ambient all contribute (often in the same piece of music) to the satisfyingly adventurous package that is Torus, whilst the whole venture is solidly grounded by the frequent snatches of quasi or actual traditional Scottish tunes.  There’s not really anything else like the delightful music on offer here. The nearest comparison I can suggest is an amalgam of Moving Hearts, King Crimson and Frank Zappa. Suffice to say, it’s magical!

Torus gets off to a blistering start with Lateral Roots, a tune which is a microcosm of the delights to come – jazzy bass and drums, a stunning Frank Zappa-like guitar solo and traditional Scottish flourishes on accordion and sax.  When I heard this, I just knew that I was in for a treat!  Observatory is a little more spacey, with some wonderful atmospheric percussion, before Norman’s sax comes in with a hornpipe-derived tune which is given extra impact by some fantastic bass playing from James as he drops onto, and then off, the melody line.

Keyboard and Moog vie for attention on Electroceptor, a tune that threatens to fly off anywhere and everywhere, yet remains anchored to earth by its just-about-detectable traditional roots.  The lengthy Lewisian Complex is a tune that has just about everything.  Alternately cacophonous and orderly, there’s a riff-based section that comes across like Larks’ Tongues-period King Crimson on a Highland holiday, some wonderful folk/jazz violin, more Zappaesque guitar soloing and an enchanting, ethereal, almost otherworldly vocal from guest Deirdre Graham, who puts Ewen Henderson’s Gaelic lyric, Clach-Stèidhe, across with great empathy.

Cycles starts as an almost soulful groove before the accordion and sax restore the traditional foundations of a lovely tune that, enchantingly, never quite seems to go where you expect it to!  The Shetland form of the Guising tradition provides the name for Skekler, a tune built upon a solid, adventurous bassline and insistent yet gentle percussion, and which grows into a crescendo that has a distinctly sinister feel to it.  Things become almost funky with the soaring sax that takes the lead in Smiddy (a Scottish dialect term for “Smithy”).  It’s another tune with a bit of a Moving Hearts feel, and which includes some excellent bass/guitar interaction.

Jinibara is simply splendid.  Named after an indigenous Australian people, it’s a tune that is set slowly alight by an insistent drumbeat, some gentle exploratory guitar and a violin sound that reaches out all the way from Shetland to the Queensland Outback, all topped off by some awesome saxophone.  The term ‘Holon’ means something that is whole in itself, yet is also part of a larger whole.  It’s a clever title for the tune that closes this magnificent album – a nice piece of music that gives time in the spotlight to accordion, guitar and sax and which, as its title suggests, stands alone but also slots comfortably into Torus to round things off on a satisfying high.

James Lindsay is an awesomely talented musician, and on Torus, he is aided and abetted by a group of equally talented friends.  The music is adventurous, wonderfully played, well produced and is, above all else, highly enjoyable and entertaining.  Torus is an excellent album – Thank You James.

Watch James Lindsay adding the bass track to Observatory – a track from the album – here:

James Lindsay Online: Website/ Bandcamp/ Facebook/ Instagram/ YouTube

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