Stuart McCallum: Distilled

Manchester guitarist and composer Stuart McCallum is best known for his work with Cinematic Orchestra. The distinctive, ethereal and atmospheric sound of his guitar has been at the heart of their sound since 2004, featuring prominently on the albums ‘Ma Fleur’ and ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ as well as the award winning soundtrack ‘The Crimson Wing’.

His own music is largely inspired by jazz and DJ culture but is a distillation of many influences, creating a sound that is concentrated and distinctive. McCallum who admires the artistry of the likes of Wes Montgomery to Bjork, Flying Lotus to Bon Iver and James Blake to Bill Frisell, as well as modern art, eschews over-complicated harmonic and rhythmical structures in favour of a rich mix of electronica and improvisation enriched by elegant orchestral writing.

‘Distilled’ will be McCallum’s brilliant third album, and first for new label Naim due out October 3rd. The record is a culmination of the music he has written over the last few years and the idea of ‘distillation’ is right at the heart of how the record was written. McCallum sampled the best bits of his compositions, using them as the basis for further writing, before sampling the results again, and so on, until arriving at the perfectly distilled version of what he wanted to say.

The result is a sublime slice of ambient-jazz-electonica creating beautiful soundscapes. The opening track, ‘dR Doctor’ presents the clearest statement of what this album is about. Simple and melodic comprised of uplifting riffs, a catchy bass-line and drum beat. The sampled strings are from a suite McCallum wrote for John Surman after a commission from Manchester Jazz Festival and the rest of the track grew around the sample. Other samples originating from the suite are best heard in ‘Part 3’ and ‘Lament For Levenshulme’.

The soaring ‘Inflight’ was written during a long-haul flight to Australia. It is composed of a potentially erratic tune but manages to stay composed throughout the track, which perfectly captures the sprit of motion and concludes with a fast-paced, almost psychedelic air for the final two minutes of flight.

My personal favourite on the album is the epic ‘La Cigale’. A delicate introduction of strings gradually builds to compliment faint percussion and a seemingly simple yet rhythmical guitar, which after five minutes of beautifully combined melodies culminates in a dramatic climax featuring the full support of ethereal guitars, drums and string section. ‘La Cigale’, named after the Parisian venue is where McCallum wrote the featured string quartet movement whilst sat in a tour bus.

This carefully filtered collection of ten recordings is a perfect example of how McCallum has refined his music and like a great Scotch proves that in the hands of an artist the perfect blend is one ‘Distilled’.

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