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Theo Travis - Earth To Ether

Theo Travis - Earth To EtherWho is your favourite saxophonist? Mel Collins, David Jackson, Jimmy Hastings?  All the aforementioned are great players and much acclaimed in the prog world but those of us who have listened to The Tangent, and more recent Gong and Porcupine Tree will have discovered another name to add to the list of names - Theo Travis.

Theo, who has a degree (with honours) in music, is also a composer and flautist, and is one of the biggest names on the British jazz scene today.  His active involvement in such an eclectic range of music is reflective in his latest album, Earth To Ether, release on 18th October 2004.

Earth To Ether features Theo's regular touring band of Simon Colam (piano), Andy Hamill (bass) and Marc Parnell (drums).  Marc, who has worked with Martin Barre and Jethro Tull, is the son of the great Jack Parnell who us older persons will remember as being ever present on our TV screens in the 60's and 70's with his orchestra.

Neither progressive nor jazz fans will be disappointed with this album as the way you hear the music will be influenced by your own particular affinity to either genre.  The complexity of the opening track, The Mystic And The Emperor, is a delicate weave of prog and jazz, Theo's flute reminiscent of Ian Anderson's solo albums combining with the ripple of piano and meandering background bass with Latin style percussion.  In a word, superb.

The dialogue "Stand back, I'm going in" pre-empts the start of a track every prog fan will recognise; 21st Century Schizoid Man.  Theo's take on this standard bearer of prog is truly unique commencing with a 'Starsky and Hutch' style almost unrelated jazziness, erupting with a sax flourish into good old King Crimson.  Cool jazz or cool prog, cool is the operative word.

The voice of Canterbury and prog legend, Richard Sinclair, guests on three of the nine tracks adding, dare I say, that 'Hatfield' touch of brilliance.  Author of the novels The Rotter's Club and sequel The Closed Circle (highly recommended reading by the way), Jonathan Coe,  pens the lyrics to the tracks The Munich Train and This Frozen Time, both of which feature Richard on vocals and guitar, co-written with Theo.  The feel of these tracks is, by default, very Canterbury and as you might expect from an author, the lyrics tell a story around some delightfully atmospheric flute work.  Love the lyrical reference to 'winter wine' in This Frozen Time.

I hate comparing flautist styles with that of Ian Anderson because it it is so obvious yet Stewed Flute is one of those pieces which actually fits the comparison though the track also contains elements of Clive Bell's style of Japanese flute.

Things Change returns to the progressive emphasis with flute lead and bass, complex piano and percussion providing the base line in this great instrumental.

Full Moon Rising Part 2 (Part 1 can be found on Theo's Secret Island CD) closes the album.  This ultimately jazzy piece features Theo's mastery of the tenor sax, and is a groovy, funky, fun way to finish.

Those of us with an ear for both jazz and prog are guaranteed to love this album and prog fans who are not yet jazz converts will have their eyes (or ears?) opened when they hear Earth To Ether.

At the time of writing, Theo and his band have just embarked on a UK tour (see Gigs or Theo's website for details), and on the basis of  this album, should definitely feature on your external entertainment itinerary (in other words, get your tickets now!)

Jem Jedrzejewski

Theo Travis


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