Theo Travis is a greatly admired and respected jazz saxophonist, flute player and composer, who has played with artistes and bands such as Robert Fripp, David Gilmour, Soft Machine, Gong, The Tangent, Steven Wilson, Brian Eno, David Sylvian and Bill Nelson.
Songs From the Apricot Tree is his 11th solo album and is a total diversion from his previous work. This is because it features Travis playing an ancient Armenian instrument called the duduk, which has a double reed and is made from a single piece of wood from the apricot tree - hence the album's title. The instrument has previously featured on albums by Gong, Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett among others.
Joining him on this album are King Crimson's Jakko Jakszyk on vocals and guitar, Big Big Train's vocalist David Longdon and Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge.
The album begins hauntingly with If I Forget You, where the gorgeous ethereal tone of the instrument can be heard at its most poignant and plaintive. That sense of sadness continues with Love and Mourning.
Longdon provides vocals for a gentle acoustic setting of Sylvian's gorgeous love song Brilliant Trees. There's a change of tempo halfway through, introducing Middle Eastern sounding percussion that perfectly complements voice and duduk.
He stays true to the structure and mood of Gong's Magdalene using multi-tracked duduks to create its more psychedelic, jazzy edge, Malherbe having played duduk on the original. A Quiet Prayer is a stunning spiritual incantation in which Gaddy Zerbib sings the text of a traditional Hebrew prayer.
The jazz standard The Shadow Of Your Smile is totally transformed, Etheridge's resonant guitar underpinning Travis's rich melody line. All I Know, one of Travis's older songs, features piano and sustained notes before Travis takes it onto a different plane, where several duduk tracks are looped to produce a deep, trancelike soundscape.
For the original song, She's Coming Home, Jakko delivers all the voices for this tantalising piano-led ballad which sounds both contemporary and classic, the duduk the star of the instrumental solo where you would usually expect a guitar to appear.
A Feeling Begins is a reimagining of the opening track on Gabriel's Passion that combines Middle Eastern rhythms with a hypnotic melody line that ebbs and flows. Finally, Travis returns to modern jazzier territory for Delusion Angel that has its own special groove, the duduk sounding darker and deeper in this setting.
This is without doubt one of the most beguiling and beautiful albums of the year. The sound of that incredible duduk will still resonate with you long after you have finished listening to the album.
***** Alison Reijman
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