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Pale Blue Dot
(2020 - Northern Contemporary - UK)

This has so many dimensions, from simply laid emotional reflections to robust agony, over the witness to what humans have done to this world. The album consists of four titles each chosen from a Carl Sagan commentary he made about a remarkable photograph from Voyager I, which was taken 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away from planet Earth, and then referred to as a 'pale blue dot' (1990). The  movements are representing differing perspectives and contemplating the extreme good and bad that one could gather about our mother earth. Obviously, reading Sagan's piece (1994) reveals all the listener needs to know subject-wise. Musically, it is quite a bit more complex and broad.

The first movement 'Everyone You Love' has a dirge style beginning expressing the intimate and fond memories of loved ones (family, friends...) so we have a positive atmosphere to celebrate in. The music is precise but slowly flowing forth. The instrumentation is unconventional and all written for a string quartet, tenor sax, double bass, and drums. Johnny Hunter (Manchester, UK) is amazing, not only as a musician (drums/percussion) but as a composer as well. Readers will recall my gushing praise over an album he was part of called Fragments (self titled release on Northern Contemporary) , which made my Top Choices list. The musicians on 'Pale Blue Dot' are Mark Hanslip (tenor sax), Gemma Bass (violin), Aby Vulliamy (viola), Mick Bardon (cello), Seth Bennett (double bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums).

Composition two 'Endless Cruelties' has conflicting moods, beginning with a happy industrious jazz intro, but dissolving into a sludge of sadness, but again repeating the continuation of the need of greed by building and destroying all in the path. Hunter's ability to write music that displays a clear example of human behavior or the drama caused by people, is astounding. 
This was recorded live at Lescar in Sheffield, by Anton Hunter (brother). All music written and arranged by Johnny, the many styles include melancholy strings, free jazz that spreads from RIO world (some avant-garde that Henry Cow fans will love) to experimental fusion.  In the third piece 'Momentary Masters of a Fraction of a Dot', about how some countries/rulers try to own and dominate the globe, is a composition bringing in all of the flavors in a stunning way. The quick drum work with double bass and sax, while strings sway back and forth, comes on like a ship in a harrowing storm getting tossed about. It does a nice job of illustrating the chaos and upheaval these ego maniacs of planet earth have brought about, and sadly still are.

The last movement 'Save Us From Ourselves' starts with a mantra-like string part, with bell and gentle percussion sounding much like seashells, along with saxophone. All is beautifully solemn, with a plea for humanity to wake up. Tearfully sweet, hopeful, yet realistically knowing that some people have always acted this way, and forever will. Near the end, some subtle chaos is brought back in with strings, while other strings keep the flow, which seems to beg in frustration of hope. Despite the reality, the album is a deep listen (44:47 minutes) that with each additional spin, will reveal new takes. Nice CD package with eco friendly fold out, with booklet inside presenting notes and Carl Sagan's commentary. RECOMMENDED.

  ©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 2 - 13 - 2020
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