Review: Ishmael Ensemble’s Second Record, ‘Visions of Light’ an Untamed Gem
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  • Post published:04/10/2021
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By AVA LIVERSIDGE

Ishmael Ensemble’s sophomore release, Visions of Light, is the work of rich instrumental acumen and alchemical production sensibilities. 

The follow-up to 2019’s jazz spectacle, A State of Flow, this record has repositioned the Bristol-based outfit at the forefront of a lush experimental-jazz-electronic juncture. Led by saxophonist and producer Pete Cunningham, Ishamel Ensemble seems to be the progeny of Cunnigham’s mastermind and metaphysical musings come to life.

Visions of Light is imbued by everything from pop melodica to deeply experimental jazz forms to post-punk shoegaze, but to their core, Ishamel Ensemble is categorically untamed.

Visions of Light’s single, “The Gift,” puts their sensibilities on display with an arresting percussive through-line that is layered with broad cinematic synth and pockets of stereo-fuzz. The track builds with great intensity through a horn section driven with opera-esque deftness. This is all paired with falsetto murmurings about truth and openness. It is truly a masterful, experiential track.

Much of the record carries on this melding of electronic propensities and conservatory instrumentalism. Cunningham occasionally lets the sound spiral into cacophony, as seen on the endless rolling percussion and screaming fuzz tones of “Wax Werk,” intensifying similarly to the single, but with much greater zeal.

Ishmael Ensemble in concert – Photo by J.H. Styler

On Visions of Light, discrete ensemble members acting individually are shunted in favor of a unified effort toward a uniformly dizzying sound; the collective conspires on what sounds like a pressurized invocation of sound. The wailing saxophone on “Soma Centre” is slightly haunting, but feels not at all out of place alongside the droning synth and reverb-laden guitar tones. Ishmael Ensemble seems to reach for a transgenesis of Bristolian influences into jazz semantics and electronic inclinations.

Beneath Cunnigham’s wand, a sound that should sunder to dissonance instead resolves into a sonic symbiosis in each tracks’ rise and fall. 

The title track opens with descending string waterfalls atop lush harp and a buzzing reminiscent of chirping crickets– revolutionary, new-age spa music that is simultaneously calming and provocative.

Visions of Light closes with a withering epic that explores much of the high-tensioned, inter-personal struggles that flit about the entire record. Holly Wellington’s voice reaches strenuous peaks over a growing bed of piano and horn accompaniment. The song arch offers much resolve in what is appreciated, after quite the atmospheric listen, as a gentle rocking back to reality. We are left with a three-times repeated “I see you” and a resolute percussive break.

Ishmael Ensemble are about to embark on a tour of the UK to promote Visions of Light. These trailblazers have been unleashed in their latest record; go and witness the alchemy.

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