Calm / Before / Hell Yeah! – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

So here we all are. 2022. All the twos – almost. A time for reflection, possibly, before we haltingly relaunch ourselves into the daily brouhaha that we laughingly refer to as ‘life.’ There’ll be no peering into the rancid petri dish of future events here though. Given the shitstorm of the last two years I’m not about to proffer any theories, half-cocked predictions or mumbled approximations of what a better existence might look like. Not a chance. All I can offer up in way of recompense is this superb new offering from the long-serving Japanese producer Fukagawa Kiyotaka, aka Calm, a man who absolutely knows his way around an emotive chord sequence or three, having crafted twenty plus years of deeply felt machine music.

Hooking up again with the Hell Yeah! crew, Calm plays it cool by inviting a posse of bad-ass musicians to join him this time around in his exploration of all things gently grooving. Tomokazu Sugimoto thrums the bass, Toshitaka Shibata supplies lithe piano lines, Yuichiro Kato layers sensual sax motifs over cuts like Long Summer Dream, which pretty much explains itself: an unfurling, almost unheard acid-figure bubbles beneath the bass and Kato’s sax, and suddenly you’re replaying those lost golden moments spent on – mythical – beaches of times past. Beautifully put together, lovingly hand-crafted – consummate, flawless.

Blue In Void introduces Shiba on trumpet, laying the groundwork for more fine blowing from Kato – acoustic bass and rolling piano doing the heavy-lifting underneath. An aching lament, a wee small hours peek into the existential depths – except that of course when it hits, you feel no pain.

In essence, you can more or less stick a pin in at random and come up with a wonderful piece of music anywhere in this collection. Fumiko Takeshita’s violin on Before Sunrise Blue just ramps up the emotion: these guys are not messing around. A perfectly paced moment, this is as dishy as dance music gets – when it finally drops at three minutes in the release is entirely organic, and assuredly euphoric – this is the art of the dance writ large.

It takes time, and patience, and lots and lots and lots of skill to make music this rarefied, this intricate, this moving. Twenty years of time and toil and effort rolled up into ten timeless compositions such as Kunpoo. Again, the sax is highlighted, Kato playing for his life it feels like: there’s no bullshit here, no checking what’s hot with the ‘tastemakers’ – just abnormally arresting, amazing, music, made for those who take the path less trodden, who value the journey more than the arrival.

Perhaps the only drawback with Before is that having snuck out in the very last days of 2021, it might fall between the cracks when people are reckoning up the albums of the year. It would be a travesty of justice for a work this accomplished to be overlooked: Calm and friends have laid down a marker. There won’t be many better albums released in 2022 – that’s at least one prediction I’m more than happy to put my name to.

Before is out now, and can be purchased directly from Calm. 

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