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THE OLD DANCE SCHOOL - Chasing The Light

THE OLD DANCE SCHOOL - Chasing The Light
Transition Records  TRANSCD05

Birmingham band Old Dance School, once described as a “cinematic septet”, have – since the 2008 release of their first CD especially – been astounding festival crowds with their brave and confident take on contemporary folk tradition that takes its cues as much from jazz and latter-day classical music as from the familiar tune-session ethic. The band recently took a well-earned break from touring to record a new CD, once again engaging tuned-in producer Calum Malcolm. It turns out to have a slightly different character from its predecessors; though not intended as a criticism, I find the overall lasting impression of Chasing The Light is that it’s a little less markedly inventive/cutting-edge (or perhaps it’s more that I thought I knew what to expect?).

And yet the crucial ODS trademarks (the rich, textured ensemble sound, the considered yet organic approach to soloing) are still very much an integral part of the picture, and there’s absolutely no lack of verve in the playing. There are moments both of energetic excitement (Swifts And Martins and the Dancing Ledge set), and repose (Helen’s deliquescent sound-picture Silver Tide), so contrast isn’t an issue, but for some reason the predominant mode now seems to be more settled and mellow. Much of that vibe might I think be attributed to the curious impression (not at all borne out by the stats!) that Chasing The Light feels weighted towards guitarist Robin Beatty’s original songwriting – of which in the end there are only two examples! It’s probably because those two songs are so good, for in their reflective poetry Robin displays an acute affinity with the landscapes he depicts and the issues he needs to explore (and having recently spent a windswept morning by Butt Of Lewis Lighthouse, I can appreciate the sentiments of Sula Sgier).

Interestingly, playing the whole album through a few more times yields a more rounded satisfaction altogether – but not that I was going to complain anyway…

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.