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The most beautiful album of the year

Alabaster DePlume takes the suitcase labelled “jazz” on a trip around the globe. He opens it up in various corners of the world – for forty minutes, we delve into melodies as if taken straight from the Ethiopiques stage, set sail for the Far East and towards Japanese Min’yo folk, only to return to Europe along the path of Celtic music.

Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska

“What a beautiful album,” I thought upon hearing To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 for the first time. What immediately struck me about this record, made by Alabaster DePlume and a sizable group of collaborators, was its extremely sophisticated, very warm, orchestral sound – and a narrative coherence that keeps it whole, despite bridging a number of styles in the process. This was my first encounter with the Manchester-born musician, although he already has a couple of albums under his belt. I discovered him thanks to Chicago’s invaluable International Anthem, who – together with Total Refreshment Centre and The Lost Map – released this album (DePlume is the first European artist on their roster). Admittedly, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1 is largely a collection of tracks that have already appeared on DePlume’s earlier records, but there is some new music here too – the thing is, you wouldn’t have known, because it sounds so consistent throughout, a solid, polyphonic work. Accompanied by several dozen musicians DePlume, composer and saxophonist, takes the suitcase labelled “jazz” on a trip around the globe. He opens it up in various corners of the world – for forty minutes, we delve into melodies as if taken straight from the Ethiopiques stage, set sail for the Far East and towards Japanese Min’yo folk, only to return to Europe along the path of Celtic music. Sometimes DePlume wants to try minimalist arrangements, at other times, he creates complex orchestrations, either more acoustic or backed by electrification, reverbs and effects. The entire record floats within the realm of spiritual jazz, and – with his vibrating saxophone – DePlume brings to mind Albert Ayler, often maintaining the lullaby-like character of his melodies.

De Plume reaches deep into the sphere of emotions and memory, diversifies musical themes in warm tones, and discovers music from around the world (yet do not try to call it ‘world music’). “Visit Georgia” is based on a repeated motif dominated by the string quartet, but just a moment later De Plume builds a multi-layered space for saxophone and guitar on “What’s Missing”, while the drums create an oneiric background covered by multiplied vocals. To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1 sounds lyrical, yet with frequent mood swings, and the ensemble brings to mind a travelling jazz troupe – these contrasts brilliantly come through in subsequent tracks (“What’s Missing” vs “Song of the Foundling” or “Whisky Story Time” vs “Not Now Jesus”). Yet one does not have a sensation of overdoing it in terms of ideas – harmonious compositions build a captivating, delicate narrative with striking colours, beautiful arrangements and appealing gentleness. DePlume maintains appropriate proportions throughout, without either falling into banality or imposing himself with his music.

This is a delicate album, as if from the fairy-tale realm, a remedy to our overwhelming times. The material was created when DePlume collaborated with Ordinary Lifestyles, a charity organization based in Manchester – he was helping the titular Cy and Lee by making music with them, which acted as a form of therapy. This album really has the sort of power to stop time and create a soothing, very organic atmosphere. The multi-layered composition are full of details one can try to decipher – but you can just as well get carried away with the amazing sound of To Cy & Lee and forget about your everyday life, immersing in its beautiful soundscapes.

Alabaster dePlume, To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1, International Anthem