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Jamie Craig: "Illumination"

img  Tobias

Having to work like a madman for every listener is the curse of a latecomer like Jamie Craig. While „Illumination“ might easily have made it to the upper ranks of the Jazz-charts thirty years ago, it is having to celebrate far more modest triumphs in the 21st century: Frequent airplay on up to 100 American radio stations, in-depth interviews with insider-publications and respectable sales on the strength of a personally-led marketing campaign without any kind of label-meddling. Outside those circles, drawing attention to the album hasn't been easy: Craig's inspirations include commercially succesful pioneers from Vangelis to Kitaro, forever divisive superstars of Progrock like Yes and recently re-resurrected  Emmerson, Lake and Palmer as well as (perhaps) the smooth and sultry textures of someone like Jeff Lorber. I terms of credentials, it is currently hard to come up with a more uncool list of acts.

It is a good thing, then, that Craig doesn't give too much about his hipness-factor. Where others would pimp their profile with merciless noodling and unnerving virtuosity, he prefers lyrical melodicism. Where others would invite over high-profile studio musicians, he prefers performing every line on the album himself. Demands for  contemporary loops, urban beats, technoid sounds and cross-over concepts are as relevant to him as rap-music-ringtones. Alluring darkness is juxtaposed with sensual metaphors and the ideal of absolute music is counterpointed by the inclusion of intimate background stories to each single song in the liner notes. Instead of trying to compete with a plethora of nostalgic retro-acts, Craig's dense, atmospheric electro-fusion is carving out its own niche, defying the traps of clear-cut genre-associations and easy comparisons.

A love for a high degree of physicality is at the heart of his style: As a former Bassist, Craig thinks in percussive patterns rather than motivic development or chord progressions. What matters to him is building an airy, swinging, seductive groove on the one hand as well as creating organic relations between inherently inorganic elements on the other. And as a romantic soul, who deals with his secret desires, fears and pains in his work, he uses harmonic resonance to express emotion. Although some of the sounds on „Illumination“ may strike one as passionately synthetic at first, the real point is in how these cascading Piano drops, funky Bass lines and delicate Keyboard themes are intuitively coming to life. „Mirage“ opens with yearning string-swells, then turns into a piece of dreamy future-jazz haunted by glowing stabs and Bladerunner-analogues. „San Juan“ is a classicaly-tinged loveletter to the capitol of Puerto Rico. And „Voyager IX“ runs through hypnotic cycles of fluent harmonic transitions, subtly picking up pace and working itself into a hallucinatory momentum.

As the album draws to a close, its tone grows more sultry, soft and luminous. But this tendency is always contrasted by a poignant technique of deforming time. Essentially, many of these tracks dive straight into the action, wasting little time on intros and favoring a constant interplay between solos and rhythmical ideas over the traditional song format and self-forgotten improvisations. Only a minute into most of the pieces, one feels pleasantly confused and the album as a whole resembles a trance-like, meditative state without weighing heavy on the soul. In fact, it is quite an uplifting experience, despite the complete absence of a live- or band-feeling.

You'll need to be able to deal with some sweetness to enjoy „Illumination“. But it is not hard at all to tell what all those radio stations, interviewers and niche-audiences are seeing in this groovy ambient excursion, even though it is lightyears away from entering the billboard charts: The honest statement of a man who only cares for realising his vision just the way he wants it. It may be the blessing of the latecomer that listeners no longer need to cut through any kind of hype to become aware of it.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Jamie Craig

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