Hesitation is the first release from Polish trio Noibla; three experienced musicians having all previously played with Albion, but wanting a (presumably 180 degree) change of direction, hence the catchy name! In this endeavour they are assisted by a number of stellar musicians providing the rhythm section, woodwind and strings. Thus is a band with a very specific musical manifesto, and I do like a band with a manifesto. Composer Krzysztof Malec lists amongst his international influences as “Sting, Branford Marsalis, Coldplay, Steven Wilson” so an eclectic mix of undeniable quality, if not all to everyone's taste. I'm sure Mr Wilson would be thrilled to be next to the C-word, but he doesn't get a vote on this one. Nor am I sure that this gives us much of a clue as to what is actually on the record. Perhaps more pertinently, vocalist Katarzyna Sobkowicz Malec explains that the band had a very specific musical style and sound in mind, resulting in many hours spent consigning sections to the cutting room floor and selecting specific musicians to fit in to the required style, from jazz to classical players.
The result is an album of delicate, pastoral brilliance, serene and majestic as a swan ripples across a lake. The compositions are sparse and studiously plotted. While not minimalist as such, there is no extraneous noise. Every part is played for a reason from Sobkowicz Malec's ethereal vocals through to Bartek Staromiejski's sparse, effective percussion and Krzysztof Wyrwa's tour de force on bass, busily, yet unobtrusively complementing soprano saxophone, oboe, guitar and keys picking their way through a jazz inflected repertoire. For an album so light and airy, there is emotional intensity too such as on Utani where the restrained electric guitar is finally allowed to break free, or Atlantis with glittering soprano sax raising the temperature and Sobkowicz Malec finding a raunchier, more emotional tone. It is also to the band's credit that while staying true to their principles, they have been able to produce something that is also remarkably accessible without compromising quality or the eclectic qualities of the composition. Cistercian Bell shines as brightly as the bell in the church where Krzysztof and Katarzyna were married capturing a moment of pure joy like light through a stained glass window. Metanoia, if one of the most overworked terms in prog, captures the spirit of commitment to change perfectly although tellingly it is followed by the title track, Hesitation an experimental piece exploring the loss of confidence engendered by failed decisions, the double bass beautifully capturing the sense of self-doubt, with a bluesy organ adding a sense of quiet desperation as the final guitar notes are left hanging in the air. The parting shot, It's All I Have is a perfect synopsis, bittersweet yet upbeat, shimmering in space and delicate, the guitar flares briefly like a firefly before the vocal disappears chimerically into the ether. A singular moment of great beauty in a collection which is packed with them.
In declaring that the days of Albion are behind them, the new trio announced that the chemistry had gone. In Noibla they have found a delicious new mix which should delight a new generation of followers for some time to come. They are to be congratulated on this new found direction and enthusiasm. No more hesitation, if you see what I mean!
**** Andrew Cottrell
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