THE EMBASSADORS: Coptic Dub (Nonplace Records)


Posted on Nov 24th 2009 01:03 am

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The Embassadors: Coptic Dub

Coptic Dub
Nonplace Records 2009
08 Tracks. 41mins37secs

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New Zealander saxophonist and multi-instrumentist Hayden Chisholm leads The Embassadors, an oddly named jazz formation which counts in its ranks drummer Jochen Rueckert and bassist Matt Penman. A long term collaborator of Burnt Friedman – he is, amongst other things, a member of the Nu Dub Players, Chisholm has released a number of records under his own name or as part of Root 70 or Zeitkratzer. His Embassadors materialised for the first time a couple of years ago with an album entitled Healing The Music, which featured a wide international formation, including Kenyan vocalist Michel Ongaru. This time round, Chisholm and his Embassadors have recorded an entirely instrumental record which gives Hayden a much more imposing presence.  

Recorded over a period of almost two years during sessions in New York, Cologne and Berlin, Coptic Dub is a smooth and refined affair which snakes its way through hazy dub ambiences and moody atmospherics. Rueckert and Penman, with additional contributions from Bruno Mueller and Robert Nacken (guitars on various tracks), while Burnt Friedman (electronics and effects) and Claudio Bohórquez (cello) also feature on Interlude and Desdemona Breathes, create a particularly delicate and finely detailed backdrop for Chisholm, either on sax, clarinet, steeldrums or Hammond organ.

The various components of these tracks were recorded totally in isolation, with Rueckert and Penman working together in Brooklyn, Mueller and Nacken in their respective studios, and Chisholm and Friedman in Germany. To add to the disjointed recording process, the sessions took place over the course of nearly two years. The result however sounds surprisingly consistent and fluid. Without Michel Ongaru’s hypnotic vocals, the music takes centre stage here, with a particular focus on Chisholm’s contribution, yet he never assumes a strong lead, favouring instead a much more integrated sound for the band, while Rueckert’s restrained and nuanced drumming, combined with Penman’s beautiful and expressive bass playing, contribute greatly to the whole album feeling very natural and organic.

Close to the mood of the Nu Dub Players’ Just Landed, especially in the detailed rhythmic patterns and the dub undertones, although resolutely jazzier in concept, Coptic Dub swaggers seductively all along its forty minutes, dropping in its path wonderfully airy and light gems such as Sierra Alone, Iboga Dreamtime, Dagaz Eterna, Desdemona Breathers or Big Amen, all featuring prominent slices of both Hammond organ and sax, which in turn appear to converse with each other or, as is especially the case on the opening and closing pieces, work together to form a totally harmonious and enchanting sound, while on Polar Sexus, the formation opt for a much drier setting, relying on a strangely funky dub groove upon which a muted clarinet casts a silky shadow.

While the first Embassadors album was built around a truly multi-cultural sound and ensemble, Coptic Dub’s more restricted scope takes it into a far less colourful territory. One could deplore the loss of dynamic and the absence of Michel Ongaru’s rich vocal tones, yet, Hayden Chisholm and his troop never try to recreate any of the moods of their debut, instead focusing on rather sumptuous grooves rounded with delicate jazz brushes. Coptic Dub’s cinematic aspect is enhanced by the band’s exquisite textures and refined orchestrations, making it a pleasantly subdued tour de force.


Icon: arrow The Embassadors | Nonplace Records
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