The National Jazz Trio of Scotland - Standards Volume II

Record of quietly abstract nature from Bill Wells project

In case you didn’t know, Bill Wells’ National Jazz Trio don’t actually play jazz music. They’re not a trio either. That’s about as misleading as things get though – otherwise, the group manifests all of the usual delicate melancholy which has come to characterise Wells’ recent output.

Wells doesn’t take centre stage here though, instead his rotating guest vocalists Lorna Gilfedder, Aby Vulliamy and Kate Sugden are the star players, letting their gossamer vocals flower simple arrangements into glorious hymnal odes. The whole record holds a startling innocence and simplicity – a polar opposite to the jaded cynicism of his work with Aidan Moffat. Wells’ gently pressed keys provide the foundations for subtle patterns of melody to be stitched together under sparse piano melodies and wide-eyed vocals.

The gorgeous scales of ‘Hillwalk’ sound like a serene highland stroll, and the album regularly captures the calm of nature in a very perceptible and pious way – such reverence is particularly apparent in an intoxicating version of traditional Scottish folk classic ‘Bonnie Mary of Argyle’. The album is at its most progressively beautiful with a cover of Moondog’s ‘My Tiny Butterfly’ which has the three vocal muses singing in rounds, to luscious, dizzying effect.

While it is never a difficult listen, there is a quietly abstract nature to the record which regularly juxtaposes beauty and tension. ‘Winter Breaks and Back to Spring’ for instance has a darker tone, where decayed strings and stark primal percussion make for a desolate instrumental interlude. ‘This is What You Could Have Won’ has an ominous undertone which scrapes curiously against grand piano keys and angelic harmonies, before slipping into coarse apocalyptic territory. A thoroughly beguiling listen overall, and an album which will warrant several listens to fully appreciate the complexities which lurk beneath its immediate charms.

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