Review – Nick Fletcher – The Cloud of Unknowing – by John Wenlock-Smith

Nick Fletcher is a man of many talents for not only is he the guitarist in the excellent John Hackett band, he also has his own acoustic guitar recitals happening in the North of England. Last year he released his excellent solo album ‘Cycles Of Behaviour’, which was very highly regarded. In addition, Steve Hackett, no less, has stated that he considers Nick to be the finest Jazz Rock guitarist in the country. In the intervening months Nick has completed and released his new album ‘The Cloud Of Unknowing’, let us have a look and see shall we?

The album consists of nine tracks which are all thematically linked by the album’s attempts to illuminate a journey towards enlightenment, understanding and the acceptance of how things are and our place within that cycle. It is mainly instrumental, although it has vocals on the fifth and ninth songs and is best heard as a single piece of music to get the best out of it and to allow the journey to unfold as you listen.

Nick says the album came out of lockdowns and during the time of the pandemic in which he became open to search for deeper meaning and value to life. He did this by looking at mythology and to Christian mysticism from the likes of St John Of The Cross, whose words that illuminate the paradox we face are shown on the inner CD sleeve. Right, enough background, let’s hear the music…

The first piece, Out Of The Maelstrom, is a brutal hard-hitting track that reminded me of Billy Cobham’s ‘Spectrum’ and the track Quadrant 4 as it has a similar vitality and energy to it. It is full of dynamism and a mad organ from Dave Bainbridge, off which Nick plays flurries of notes and runs and it’s all highly impressive. Even better though is the more reflective The Eyes Of Persephone, which features a great flowing piano solo from Dave and over which Nick soars, playing some fluid guitar lines that would not be out of place on a Camel album. However, it still has a fire burning underneath making it a formidable and exceptional track

We then move into a set of five tracks that together form a suite entitled ‘Scenes From The Subconscious Mind’.

The suite opens with We Need to Leave This Place…Right Now!, twenty seconds of modern life noises, traffic and sirens and the like that display the unrest of life, this then moves into the more, almost metallic, crunch of Pandemonium which is rather brutal really, although it allows a great platform for Nick to solo from, adding some very sweet slide guitar tones in the latter part. This is all magnificently underpinned by the wonderful and highly versatile fretless bass of Tim Harries whose parts really add much to the sound, another magnificent track.

Then we have The Cloud of Unknowing Part 1 Part 2 Part 3, the first vocal track from Stuart Barbour, who is a contemporary Christian musician who Caroline Bonnet suggested to Nick. His voice is very English sounding, sounding a little like John Wetton in his U.K. days. This is an album that is better with some volume as the sound unfolds as you listen, the more you play it the more you hear, the track ends in gentler but still highly atmospheric soundscapes.

We then have a gentle arpeggio led guitar piece called Awakening The Hydra, which in turn leads to Dance of the Hydra, a blistering five plus minutes of wild fusion playing and a monstrous riff that the likes of Metallica would love It is a brutal, kicking piece of music with lots of wild guitar riffs and manic drumming from Russ Wilson. Nick is all over this track, employing many of his artistic tools to profound effect, there is furious playing but he never loses sight of feeling, melody and touch and this closes out the suite perfectly.

Arcadia is a classical guitar piece that flows seamlessly into The Paradox Part 1 Part 2. This is a very questioning song that asks questions about how we live today. There is a great synthesiser solo from Dave Bainbridge at the halfway mark and a very spacey, yet fluid, guitar line from Nick carries the song forward, along with more subtle slide parts that really add to the atmosphere of the song. The song ends gently with classical guitar playing that draws everything to a close and completes our journey. Hopefully, during the journey, we should have gained enough insight to be able to continue our lives in the light of the wisdom that has been handed to us, to discover, absorb, and allow us to illuminate the paths that lie before us.

The Cloud Of Unknowing’ is an astonishing album that reveals more and more of itself as you become familiar and open to its themes. It is deeply spiritual and is one that we invariably need in these days of turmoil that the world is facing. Whatever you believe, this album is at least a call the ponder, muse and meditate even if only for yourself, why not try it? It is a highly highly recommended listening experiencefor the discerning music fan.

Released 6th June, 2022.

Order direct from the musician here:

Nick Fletcher – The Cloud of Unknowing CD | Nick Fletcher guitar (nickfletcherguitarmusic.com)

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