anyone with a penchant for jazz guitar would do well to checkout both this album and Mike De Souza in concert.
Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT658
Mike De Souza (guitar); Rupert Cox (piano, synthesiser); Alec Harper (tenor sax); Huw V Williams (acoustic bass); Jay Davis (drums)
Recorded Fish Factory Studios, North London 25 August 2022
Hailing from Hertfordshire, and training at the Royal Academy of Music, Mike De Souza is a young, upcoming guitarist, who has been gaining attention since moving to London in 2012. He has toured around Europe, played in venues such as Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express, and his musical associates include Martin Speake and Terence Blanchard.
This is his third recording as leader, following on from an EP released in 2018 and a trio album released the following year, Slow Burn. The album was critically well-received and featured Huw V Williams and bass and Jay Davis on drums, both of whom also play on this release. The trio has been bolstered by the addition of keyboardist Rupert Cox and tenor saxophonist Alec Harper.
Mike De Souza plays a semi-hollow bodied Gibson ES-335, as well as utilising various pedal effects. The music on this album tastefully combines acoustic instruments with electric guitar, synthesiser, electric piano and loop effects. Most of the songs composed for this album were written during the Covid pandemic (all composed by De Souza), hence the album’s title, suggesting new life emerging from a period of stillness and isolation.
But while there is some meditative music on the album, don’t expect a recording full of depressing, introspective tunes. On the contrary, prepare to be impressed by the quality of musicianship, composition and arrangement.
The first number, ‘Clementine Clouds’ is aptly titled, as De Souza plays delicate figures over an undulating keyboard riff, which evokes in this listener the sight of light, airy clouds slowly drifting across a vast skyline. Alec Harper’s sax lines are as light as a soft, summer breeze.
Rupert Cox plays a captivating piano solo, which begins with single-note strikes before building up to a fizzing cascade of mesmerising riffs. Harper follows by playing some mournful phrases, which lead into an intense tenor sax solo, reminding me of the powerful playing of the late Bob Berg. It’s no surprise that this was chosen as the opening tune.
The ballad ‘Looking Up’ includes a thundering bass solo by Williams and a tender solo by De Souza. The long coda has Cox utilising a series of melodic loops on the synthesiser to create what sounds like a spaceship hurtling towards the outer reaches of space. Harper’s melancholic sax lines add to the effect. It’s a solid performance by the band.
At close to nine minutes in length, ‘Gently Away’ is the longest track, with the first half being an extended exposition, which slowly builds up in textures and leads up to some vigorous drumming from Davis. The second half of the song in fact, sounds like another tune grafted on, being an uptempo piece with solos from Cox, De Souza and Harper.
The midtempo ‘Paper Plane Pilot’ is a showcase for De Souza’s playing, who delivers an angular, gritty solo. There’s also an avant-garde feel to the music, courtesy of Cox’s ‘out there’ synth effects, which bubble up here and there.
The title track is based around an eight-bar ostinato, and the sound slowly grows and develops, before bursting out into a heated sax solo, like a butterfly coming into life.
The closer, ‘Headbanger Blissout’ is a jazz-rock tune, with more emphasis on rock. De Souza unveils some fiery playing, adding reverb, distortion and echo to his solo’s many twists and turns.
Harper steps up to the mark with yet another impressive solo. Fans of John Scofield will enjoy this piece. Indeed, anyone with a penchant for jazz guitar would do well to checkout both this album and Mike De Souza in concert. The man, his music and his guitar, are clearly going places.