With music throughout the week tending toward the funky rather than the smooth it restored some balance to have those adult contemporary pioneers Acoustic Alchemy in the line-up for the Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise 2006 (WHSJC). Although taking main stage billing they were shunted away into the none prime time slots of Sunday and Thursday afternoon where competing attractions were many and varied. Consequently, at least for their second show, the audience was not all it should have been but, as the band wound back the clock to the days before the line-up was expanded, those who did come were hugely appreciative of their hallmark acoustic sound.
Acoustic Alchemy is all about the classic Greg Carmichael – Miles Gilderdale combination of nylon and steel stringed guitars and here, aappearing as the Acoustic Alchemy Trio, with simply the addition of AA regular Greg Grainger on drums, they clearly demonstrated that less is more. This trio concept was employed from time to time during the bands 2005 tour of the USA and the comfortable, accomplished style with which Carmichael and Gilderdale slipped into the format suggested that they may well be onto a winner. Creating an atmosphere that, despite the rolling seas, seemed akin to a pleasant afternoon with old friends the set was, in part, glued together by the bands long time manager Stuart Coxhead. With his own special brand of laconic humour he periodically visited the stage to introduce tunes and provide anecdotes from their collective twenty years on the road.
Of course Acoustic Alchemy enjoy a hefty back catalog so, unlike some other current smooth jazz live performers, are not only able but also very willing to vary the selections that they play. This meant the WHSJC audience saw two very different but equally entertaining shows with one common thread being the conversion, mid way through the set, of the trio into a quartet. This was achieved by the addition of keyboard player Terry Disley who was part of the AA lineup during the early nineties. He appeared on their ‘Reference Point’, ‘Back On The Case’, ‘New Edge’ and ‘Against The Grain’ albums before returning to guest on ‘Beautiful Game’ in 2000. English born Disley is now domiciled in San Francisco and blended wonderfully with Carmichael and Gilderdale like he had never been gone. His own solo CD ‘Experience’ is currently on release and when he was given the space to showcase the radio single ‘Side To Side’ it was received with rapturous applause.
Check back here soon for a complete review of Terry Disley’s ‘Experience’.
With Coxhead, Gilderdale or Carmichael giving an explanation to accompany each tune of why it had been written or how it was conceived the two shows proved to be an anthology of the bands emotional evolution. The performances included ‘Lazeez’ and ‘Catalina Kiss’ from the 1996 ‘Arcanum’ album as well as ‘Mr. Chow’ and ‘Red Dust And Spanish Lace’, the epic title track of their 1987 release that was at the foundation of everything that followed. Carmichael and Gilderdale are unashamedly English and this is an approach that plays well with their American audiences. Carmichael capitalized on this as he wistfully disclosed that his inspiration for ‘London Skyline’, from the 1993 ‘New Edge’, was drawn from the view he sees most days when walking, close to his home, on Hampstead Heath.
Moving back and forth through their discography the band touched on ‘Playing For Time’ from the 1991 ‘Back On The Case’ before coming right up to date with ‘Detroit Shuffle’. This one, from their current CD ‘American English’, normally has a raucous Funk Brothers style sax solo from long time collaborator Snake Davis as its centre piece. Given eight top notch saxophone players were onboard ship it seemed inevitable that some guest performer would appear from nowhere to play the part. However that did not happen. Much like a footnote to their entire career the Alchemy kept it acoustic and, to the enduring delight of their adoring fans, kept the faith.