Skeltr is a new name to this reviewer, so getting to grips with what a band’s about is always fun.
Sam Healey, the keyboardist and saxophonist, and Craig Hanson on drums, are a duo out of Manchester that’s been going for three years.
On this album - their first with Ubuntu Music - they play tracks inspired by the birth of Healey’s son, the eponymous Dorje. With just two players, there’s always a risk that a group's sound lacks something, but their musicianship and studio resourcefulness avoids that problem.
This is a very positive, ‘up’ sort of album, a mixture of dance, post-bop musings and electronica. It’s quite a melange and, while I’m not sure it worked on every track, it has a lot of ‘moments’ throughout and it’s clear the duo has tried to be as innovative as possible by bringing in influences from all over the place.
First track Cheef Beef has a new-wave-of-British-Jazz-1990s sort of feel, with some cracking sax playing from Healey over an intense backing track. Second cut Braila has a more intense, dance-oriented beat underpinning some woozy keyboard sounds and deep electronic bass, over which a simple, falling sax line develops.
Healey’s sax blends well with the lustrous keyboard sounds on a track like Siren, which is redolent of seventies-era Jean-Lucy Ponty’s electronic explorations. It opens up into a dance number with a spiky breakbeat from Hanson and vocalisation from a female singer (the siren of the title, presumably).
KinKai’s Question starts off with brushwork and deeply weird organ sounds and electronic interference over which Healey’s up-and-down breathy sax spins a whirligig refrain, before things settle back into a soft hip-hop tune with some decidedly Championship-rather-than-Premier-quality rapping by KinKai which, while inventive, doesn’t exactly beg for answer. But, the underlying track has plenty of warmth to it and industrial levels of groove to reward the listener.
You can see the audience the band is going for - the crossover, youth market, for which jazz-oriented music isn’t on their radar, but could be - and in that respect, the musical choices the track makes sense.
Fifth track Fjord is expansive and, unadorned by vocals, is perhaps the clearest example of what Skeltr aims to achieve. Deep, vibrant keyboards and raspy, screaming sax blended into a fuzzy, wall-to-wall sound that’s just the right side of overwhelming.
The last track, Nesodden, has a different vibe, starting with some moody electric piano and double-tracked sax blowing like the wind through a forest, the tune picking up momentum as Hanson’s straight drumming develops the pace.
This is the most straightforward tune on the album, and because of that the most enjoyable: a cracking melody that develops in steps over eight and a half minutes into something rather spectacular that brought to mind Roadside Picnic in their early 90s pomp.
Take a listen to Nesodden here:
Like Binker and Moses, another duo which has grabbed the headlines of what the Guardian called "the British jazz explosion”, Skeltr makes a virtue out of the limitations imposed by having just two players (particularly live, one imagines) and it clearly aids their creativity.