Wednesday 10 January 2024

'Chrysalis' by Mike De Souza

"I hope for them to inspire feelings of wonder, excitement and hopefulness for the listener, as the music that I cherish has done for me over the years."

Mike De Souza's noble sentiment regarding his own music accompanies the release of his latest album 'Chrysalis' which finds its home on the Spanish label, Fresh Sound Records.

Marking the second full-length from the London-based guitarist and composer, De Souza unveils a stunning piece of work that incredibly found its life out of the bleakest of circumstances.  The impact of the Covid pandemic's quarantine period - while something we endured together as a society - proved ultimately to be an experience that differed for each of us.  While of course there was the obligatory steamrolling through box sets, catching up on the pile of previously unread books and maintaining a social life through Zoom-based interactions, for many, the isolation proved to be a lonely, suffocating and scary experience that tested each of our resolves.  For others, however, the unprecedented period proved - in its own peculiar way - to be something of an invaluable gift.

Time.  Something we never seem to have enough of in our everyday lives we now seemed to have more than we knew what to do with and for De Souza, quarantine afforded him the opportunity to reconnect with his writing and playing with hours each day spent exploring his own capabilities with the guitar and recontextualising his whole approach to the instrument.  And although De Souza may have found unlikely inspiration from such a turbulent period, he has masterfully managed to use these experiences and repackage them into an incredible release delivering a worthy successor to his 2019 debut solo effort, 'Slow Burn'.

With two albums and an EP ('Road Fork', 2018) now under his belt, De Souza continues to cement his name as a solo artist in his own right in addition to his already stunning résumé which includes a slew of releases via collaborative projects, session work and global touring duties.  Perhaps best known for the genre-defying Big Bad Wolf project which generated the fantastic 'Pond Life' album in 2017 and was subsequently followed by a selection of standalone singles, De Souza can further boast collaborations with Twospeak, Alex Paxton, Simon Read and Phil Meadows as well as having secured touring duties alongside the revered US trumpeter Terrence Blanchard.

With a line-up comprised of many of De Souza's friends and frequent collaborators, 'Chrysalis' can boast the immeasurable talents of pianist Rupert Cox, saxophonist Alec Harper, bassist Huw V. Williams and drummer Jay Davis.  Featuring some scintillating interplay between the musicians along with fantastic solos and inspired writing, the album's six tracks represent the band's fascinating chemistry and their collective penchant for improvisation forming a significant part of the music-making process.

The elegant slow build of 'Clementine Clouds' kicks the album off beautifully while tracks like 'Looking Up', 'Headbanger Blissout' and 'Gently Wake' inject some real personality into the compositions and serve as a real joy.  The album's title track might just shine that tiny bit brightest though as its sublime nuances beg repeated listens.

As with Mike De Souza's opening quote, music can serve as a source of tremendous inspiration and hope, and 'Chrysalis' is an album indicative of those values - a project created during difficult times but one that stands as an uplifting chronicle to that period and proof that something fairly magical can stem from the most inconceivable of circumstances.

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