Alabaster DePlume: Come With Fierce Grace review | John Lewis’s contemporary album of the week

(International Anthem)
The saxophonist-poet offers a looser, more eclectic counterpart to last year’s Gold, backed by skilled musicians who explore to striking effect

Angus Fairbairn, the Manchester-born, London-based musician who records under the name Alabaster Deplume, makes music that is extremely hard to classify. His albums feature some of Britain’s top jazz musicians, but you wouldn’t call it jazz. It’s an odd mix of creaky chamber music, clunky post-punk, lo-fi Afrobeat, avant-garde folk music and English whimsy. The self-taught saxophonist plays his tenor sax out of the side of his mouth in a breathy murmur, all simple phrases and fluttering, low-volume flourishes. He sings in mantras, occasionally lapsing into quite funny Robert Wyatt-ish spoken-word excursions. He also surrounds himself with fine musicians who push his simple songs into more challenging territory.

Last year’s album Gold was quite carefully plotted – each song was pre-written and recorded to a click-track with several different line ups; in post-production Fairbairn switched between those separate performances or layered them. This album features the more exploratory, improvised parts of those sessions. There is a heavy African influence: Guinean musician Falle Nioke brings his high-pitched, wordless vocals to several tracks, including the blissful opener, Sibonde, backed by Sarathy Korwar’s polyrhythmic drumming. Some are quite spartan: To That Voice and Say sees Fairbairn squawking out morse code messages on the sax while Ruth Goller plays bass guitar harmonics, and drummer Tom Skinner sounds like a drum kit falling down an endless staircase. Greek Honey Stick is just a duet for Fairbairn and Skinner – a thrillingly lo-fi mix of no wave guitars and drums.

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