This third album release from 10-piece Irish reggae/jazz band Avatar – written and arranged by guitarist/bassist James Kennedy (aka Jah Bass) and mixed/engineered by Tony O’Flaherty at Sonas Recording Studio in Killarney – is brass and woodwind dominated: tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, flute and flugelhorn. Most of the eight tracks are instrumental, ranging from the melodic ‘Memories of the Avenue’ – with upfront ska/reggae guitar rhythm, instrumental breaks including vintage organ sounds, and a pleasing dub-leaning interlude – to the title track itself which begins like the dramatic prelude to some Western or biblical film, illuminated by jazz/blues guitar and a gentle rhythm that keeps the whole thing moving. All the other instrumental tracks are worthy of attention, particularly ‘From Warieka Hill’ which is dedicated to the great Rico Rodriguez (and name-checks one of his own early albums), offering here virtuoso trombone from Trevor Mires and a hint of dub in the background mix.
The three songs with guest vocalists are intriguing and strong. ‘Time Takes Care of All’ with vocals from Carlton Hines (Tetrack) and Norris Reid has very little brass and, more than any other track, sounds like a reggae band in classic mode, with its neat circular reggae rhythm holding it together. The closing track ‘Jah Guide’ has similarly spiritual lyrics, with vocals courtesy of Miri – a powerful blues/jazz-influenced song and different layers of sound within. Perhaps the strongest of the three vocal tracks is ‘Grace Has Brought Me Home’ with vocals from Ricky Grant (veteran of the Gaylads): a soulful melancholy reggae/blues song and a standout track. The overall feel, the brass arrangement and the vocal delivery of this song are almost reminiscent of Otis Redding (circa Otis Blue) – not a comparison to be made lightly.
‘Soothing’ is certainly the right adjective to describe the feel of this release from Avatar. It’s relaxed in the manner of closing your eyes on a pleasant summer day but avoids MOR blandness. On the contrary the melodies and arrangements are more complex than they seem, and bring in numerous influences from reggae and elsewhere. The most striking thing is that a reggae big-band with numerous instrumentalists generate a sound that is understated and subtle, holding back from an assault on the senses with a disarming and thoughtful style. This makes it quite unlike any other currently performing band.
To listen to the album’s title track, click here.
Avatar: Resting in Alaya: July 2014 (Amaru Music)