Review – Last Ark Out – Lift

“Vancouver/EU based collective Last Ark Out presents their sophomore album ‘Lift’, featuring a host of high-profile North American guests including Larnell Lewis (Snarky Puppy, Quincy Jones, Kurt Elling), Sarah Thawer (Jacob Collier, A. R. Rahman, Jon Batiste) and Sasha Berliner (Christian McBride, Tyshawn Sorey). With intricate songwriting and virtuosity across a breadth of instruments sharing the spotlight, searing electric guitars, rich progressive harmony, and lyrical saxophone melodies create an expansive sound-world grounded by hypnotic riffs and ferocious drum grooves.”

That’s quite an introduction to an album and one that gives it a lot to live up to. However, I was intrigued by this release as soon as I heard the first couple of tracks and decided I needed to investigate further…

Recently revived after a considerable hiatus, Last Ark Out (LAO) was first brought together through their musical studies at Vancouver Community College and Capilano University. Following their 2017 debut ‘Wake‘, the band’s members have gone on to take part in residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts and receive nominations for the prestigious Western Canadian Music Awards. 

Amidst a challenging landscape of COVID-19 restrictions, LAO made use of the Digital Now grant from Canada Council to overcome the obstacles in the way of their creativity. Composing and recording a series of pieces in their signature style of groove-based instrumental jazz/rock, their challenge was to leave enough room for their long-distance collaborators to showcase their own identities while involving themselves in an atypical format of musical conversation.

LAO are Arthur Pascau Smith (Guitar, Composition), Jeff Gammon (Bass) , Justin Gorrie (Alto Saxophone, Guitar, EMEO ), James Huumo (Keyboards) and Colin Parker (Drums).    

Opening with the laid back grooves of Brackish, which features the uber cool synth vibes of Sasha Berliner, ‘Lift’ is the prefect exercise in musical expression and freedom. Intricate synth lines weave mysteriously around this intelligent collective’s universe, this is music for the cognoscenti but it’s not arrogant or autocratic and invites the listener in on the journey. You can hear the Snarky Puppy influence of Larnell Lewis in the upbeat and funky sound of Dyab, a true modern jazz classic if I’ve ever heard one. His syncopated drums add to Justin Gorrie’s delicious sax playing to give us a gloriously flippant and upbeat piece of music that just makes you want to smile. The late nite jazz lounge dynamics of David Osei-Afrifa’s keyboards are smoothness personified and add gloss to Late to the Game, a track that just seems to glide across your psyche. Wonderfully pompous but never smug, this is music that hints at the big easy and a way of life that is coolness personified.

Hailey Niswanger is the driving force behind the lush, sweeping vibes of Libra, a soundscape full of her musical dexterity on many instruments. Fans of Detective Harry Bosch will know what I mean when I say I could just imagine him listening to this on his high end vintage stereo system. It oozes mastery, charm and magnificence. The intricate groove of Scorpio sees Sarah Thawer behind the drum kit, adding her dynamic edge to a piece of music that moves purposefully and precisely across your mind. A more serious edge is behind this sophisticated tune and adds subtlety throughout the track. Thoughtful and wistful in tone and featuring the ever expressive Allison Au’s serene and composed alto sax playing and some elevated guitar playing from Arthur Pascau Smith, Song Needs Title delivers calmness and composure in five minutes of sublime music. This scintillating release comes to a close with It’s That Dream Again, a slightly urgent tone behind another wistfully beguiling track and one that finishes the album on a definite high.

‘Lift’ is a lesson in creative and perceptive songwriting and music that is carefully and precisely delivered. No note is out of place and, yet, there is still a glorious freedom and intimacy to every track. Last Ark Out have given us an album of audacious brilliance and one that just makes you smile.

Released 23rd February, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Lift | Last Ark Out (

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