Thursday, 22 April 2021

Nick Fletcher - Cycles of Behaviour

I first came across Nick Fletcher a number of years ago now when he was playing classical guitar alongside flautist John Hackett in a Methodist Chapel in Sheffield, and I must say I was impressed by his musicianship and his ability then. That respect has only grown as he stepped up as the guitarist with John's eponymous band, playing electric guitar then, and over the last few years I have seen Nick's confidence and competence flourish in this role.

His new album, Cycles of Behaviour, comes out of a most unprecedented year, due to the restrictions placed upon us all by the global Coronavirus pandemic. It had, apparently, started life as another collaboration with John Hackett, following on from their 2018 offering, 'Beyond The Stars', but the logistic difficulties brought on by Lockdown led to it being more of a solo project, though John does share some song-writing credits alongside his contributions on voice, flutes and some keys. Nick & John are joined by Dave Bainbridge on Hammond & Mellotron, Caroline Bonnett on Keys & backing vocals, Tim Harries on bass and Russ Wilson on drums.

The opening instrumental title track comes in with a bang and settles into a jazzy groove with some dextrous experimental flourishes and sweeping Hammond chords. Musically it is strongly reminiscent of the jazz rock of Bruford, with some exhilarating guitar and keyboard fills: a great start! Next comes 'Heat is Rising', the first John Hackett collaboration, and a rockier tune with some pop overtones, but a strong riff-driven base and a soaring solo midway through. 'Hope in Your Eyes' is a stunning piece: gentle, reflective and reminiscent of Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings for me in many places, with some beautiful flute work from John, but also where Nick demonstrates his influence from the late Alan Holdsworth, particularly in the solo from about 4:30 in - soul-stirring! 'Tyrant and Knave' is a harder-hitting tune, with a strong beat and heavier guitar, but losing none of the lyrical quality of the whole album. A gentler, blues-y section in the middle of the song gives the listener a breather for a while, before the main theme is restated at the end.

'Desolation Sound', the shortest track in the collection, opens the second half of the album with a mournful drone and a plaintive flute, with synthesised guitar chords and a sound that brought to my mind early Steve Hackett again. 'Interconnected' is another co-written piece, and is a complete change of tempo, with up-beat flute and some Byrds-like jangly guitars, and some quite quirky lyrics. Again, midway through there's a shift down in tempo and some haunting alto flute before the beat re-launches. 'Annexation' sees the classical guitar appear in the opening section, alongside the flute, and strings on the keyboards, before a heavier, more riff-laden electric motif emerges which drives along quite magnificently with an almost Eastern European feel to it. The album closer is the epic 'Philosopher King', the third Fletcher/ Hackett composition, and a driving blues-fuelled monster it is, with a strong David Gilmour flavour to it in the vocal passages and in the mind-blowing guitar work, but with its own distinctive moments such as the skip-y section at about 4:00 which almost seems to have a nod to Supper's Ready at one point. The last 5:00 of the song is just stunning, as first the flute and then the guitar build in a way similar to Comfortably Numb - jaw-dropping, goose-bump inducing sublime beauty, which feels like it could go on for eternity, and just fades away soaring in flight...

On the CD sleeve, Steve Hackett writes that "Nick... is probably the best jazz rock guitarist in the country." Having seen the two of them on stage together, when Steve guested with John's band at a CRS show in Maltby a few years ago, I can only concur, and I may be bold enough to say that there were times on stage when Nick not only held his own with Steve but possibly surpassed him. Along with Steve, I would say that "I consider Nick Fletcher to be an absolute star", and this album underlines his quality. My album of the year so far...

1 comment:

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