Music writers and critics review four new albums, including Ephemera Quartet Black holes and modulations; the latest offering from the husband and wife duo of Sydney Gavin and Niyati Libotte, Goldfinch; the familiar tones of Joan Armatrading’s voice on Consequences; and musician Chet Faker, born in Melbourne and based in New York, reconnects with a roots sound of Byron Bay on Abandonment of the hotel.
Ephemera Quartet, Black holes and modulations (ephemeraensemble.com)
Ephemera, still conceptually open, has now gone from a trio to a quartet with the addition of violist Carl St Jacques, and the sound options have increased exponentially. As on the band’s debut album, composer Keyna Wilkins draws inspiration from the wonders and puzzles of the astronomical universe, and, perhaps unremarkably, the end result is music of particular depth and mystery. which somehow escapes the laws of gravity. His own piano and flutes are joined by Elsen Price’s double bass (sometimes with loops) and trumpeter Will Gilbert, as well as St Jacques’s viola and NASA recordings of space missions and sounds from the deep space. Apollo Mission, for example, uses the audio from the first moon landing, which could easily be a clunky option, but Wilkins not only avoids this trap, she restores the sense of wonder we felt upon landing. The quartet can achieve a surprisingly orchestral sweep, whether playing improvised or fully noted music, partly because of Wilkins’ exchange of instruments and partly because of an abundance of solo sections (notably Price on Mercury Vista) and duets amplify the impact of trios and quartets. John shand
Goldfinch, Goldfinch (goldfynchmusic.com) ★★★ ½
Goldfynch may be a recent collaboration for husband-and-wife duo Gavin and Niyati Libotte, but none are foreign to Sydney’s contemporary music scene. Successful in their previous projects The Urban Gypsies and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Libottes are now focusing on brand new original material that showcases their love of storytelling and soul revealing. With its dreamy combination of acoustic guitar, whispering flute patterns, whispering trumpet lines and cello harmonies, Goldfinch has a fairytale whimsy, further enhanced by Niyati’s lyrical tales. Hot air balloon over Paris is just as adventurous as it sounds, with his soft bossa groove evoking just a hint of Sinatra when Niyati sings, “So let’s go to Peru, via Machu Picchu”. Comparisons to Eva Cassidy and Norah Jones wouldn’t go astray either, as jazz intersects with Latin influences and a distinct pop sensibility, while the closing Lighting is a surprisingly upbeat Latin funk number, following the ballad-steeped track list. While undeniably brimming with talent, the band still seem to find their way creatively: the genre leap is effortless, but the choppy change never gets us to understand who Goldfynch really is. Jessie Cunniffe
Jeanne Armatrading, Consequences (BMG)
There is certainty in what Joan Armatrading is doing. From that authoritative voice to how these new songs exist above or beyond the world of 2020 and 2021, Consequences comes to us on its own terms. Armatrading, who avoids the staff, sings characters in love in the instant, in a hollow of despair, or in the satisfaction of an established love. And, with as little fuss as there is in the tongue, it offers a simple feeling that things will be okay, or at least bearable. Equally fuss-free, Armatrading offers melodies that feel solid and seasoned, but she builds them up with imaginative arrangements that can comfortably accommodate low-hum electronics and prominent ska; a sullen groove that implies heaviness, or an instrumental that leans towards Nordic folk. And through it all, her voice is both comforting and leading, which is no small feat to balance. So there is no obvious reason to drag this expertly made album, but as hard as I tried, I found no way to raise it above the solid. But Armatrading has done things its own way for a long time, and it has worked. Why should this time be any different? Bernard Zuel