Acclaimed UK Saxophonist Mark Lockheart Delivers Infectious ‘Dreamers’ LP With New Band (ALBUM REVIEW)

Saxophonist Mark Lockheart has been on the vanguard of British jazz for four decades now, one surge in the ‘80s and the other here in the 2000s. Yet, his bent for experimentation and genre-agnostic approach would have many considering him an emerging force rather than an elder statesman for the music. Lockheart was a founding member of the groups Loose Tubes and Polar Bear and has been a valued session man for Radiohead and several others. We heard Lockheart on last year’s Slowly Moving Camera’s cinematic, Where the Streets Lead, covered on these pages, like this one issued on the UK label, Edition, which also issued his most recent work, attesting to his compositional skills, 2019’s Days on Earth, a jazz/orchestral work for sextet and a 30-piece orchestra.  The explorative Lockheart forms a new band for Dreamers, a tight quartet with the same name comprised of electric keyboardist Elliot Galvin, electric bassist Tom Herbert, and drummer Dave Smith. The sound resembles some of the passages in the Slowly Moving Camera album although Dreamers is less cinematic, more playful, and more varied in scope.

Aside from the leader, Galvin, a formidable composer as well, delivers imaginative contributions. He comes to the session as one of the newer, emerging voices in the UK Scene, as both a member of trumpeter Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur and though the acclaimed 2019 duo release, EX Nihilo, with saxophonist Binker Golding. Herbert shares history with Lockheart in Polar Bear while Smith is best known for his work with Robert Plant and the Sensational Shape Shifters.

Lockheart cites these diverse sources for inspiring the sound – John Zorn, Burt Bacharach, Duke Ellington, and Kraftwerk. That’s a huge swath of ground, to say the least. It’s psychedelic, living up to its name with Lockheart’s lush tones on both tenor and soprano combining with Galvin’s spacey keyboard approach creating inviting soundscapes. Titles such as “Marmalade Skies” and “Dream Weaver” are clues. Some tracks are calm in tone with others more urgent. The tempos vary as do the complexity of the rhythms, creating a mysterious aura. Beginning with the title track, Herbert’s bass intro and Galvin’s tinkling lay down an ethereal backdrop for Lockheart’s melodic tenor as Smith keeps a relaxed, steady beat. “Weird Weather” mixes more electronic textures with evolving rhythms and no distinct soloing until a tidy coda brings it together in the end. One wonders if some of these titles, all Lockheart compositions, carry direct references to other artists – Weather Report for this one, clearly The Beatles in “Marmalade Skies” and perhaps Charles Lloyd in “Dream Weaver.” 

“Jagdish” is Indian inspired with Smith’s complex kit work reflecting that of a tabla player. The piece is a showcase for an invigorating bass-drum dialogue between he and Herbert as both Galvin and Lockheart seem to just float and weave around the rhythms that bleed into “King of the World (Jagdish reprise).”  “Gangster Rat” ups the ante, with snappy, rock-like rhythms over Herbert’s funk basslines in a kind of post-punk attack, free of any inhibitions. The quartet then, as is the case with much of this sequencing of three to five minute pieces, returns to more languid, spaced-out territory in “Nature V Nurture,” with Lockheart’s lyrical lines melting into Galvin’s resonating and reverberating electronics set to easy rhythms. In turn, “Fluorescences” returns to a more chaotic milieu with choppy phrases, unpredictability, and dramatic sequences that build with Lockheart and Smith tightly engaged in a riveting exchange before the piece dissolves and then vigorously re-emerges, only to end abruptly.

So, unsurprisingly, “Marmalade Skies” delivers a hypnotic, floating quality with hints of Beatles’ melodies as Lockheart gorgeously plays his tenor which is set prominently in the mix. “Mirage” goes even further in the trippy direction, as Galvin sets his sights on cosmic exploration. Lockheart’s parts here float in and out of focus, sometimes serving as echoes to the industrial-like chatter in the forefront. The Kraftwerk influence is at play. 

“Sixteen” begins with single bass notes as if plodding footsteps, soon offset by Galvin’s chiming keys, forming a shroud of haunting mystery. Lockheart pipes in with his soprano near the end evoking some of the more ‘out there’ Weather Report recordings. This leads seamlessly into “Dream Weaver,” which, by the way, bears little resemblance to the Charles Lloyd tune of the same name except for the improvisation around the central theme. It’s another cosmic excursion, with plenty of shifting, unstructured rhythms.  The closer, “Mingle Tingle” returns to the enlivened post-punk heard in “Gangster Rat,” though a bit less exuberant, and yet teeming with fun and excitement. The latter statement applies to the entire album. Let it unfold. You’re never quite sure where these guys are going. That, in itself, makes for an enjoyable listen. 

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