‘The Navigator’, the upcoming latest album from Nova Cascade, is really rather interesting and impressive as it is, at its heart, a sincere, heartfelt tribute and celebration of the life and impact of violinist, guitarist and all round excellent musician, colleague, friend and inspirational muse Eric Bouillette, who sadly died of cancer last year after a long protracted battle. This album is based on the collective’s feelings and memories of Eric, he features throughout the album, as his magnificent violin work is on many tracks.
The album sales will raise funds in his honour and for Pancreatic Cancer UK, it is very much as one would expect, a collection of ambient progressive music with orchestrations and some vocals, flutes and guitars, all arranged and collated by Dave Hilborne, who adds keyboards and sequencers to create the atmosphere. Whilst the album is a personal tribute, it is not maudlin and is rather a series of generally positive pieces, the fact being that Eric did not wish for his friends to be sad but to celebrate his existence and his skills with their music and to make the music positive where possible.
Haunting, sympathetic and beautiful at times, this is largely instrumental music although there are vocalisations to some tracks. Charlie Bramald of Ghost Of The Machine provides the flute parts on several tracks and where there are vocals, they are performed by Dave Hilborne. He actually manages to sound not unlike Feargal Sharkey, which is actually oddly effective and the style suits the track.
The music is really rather superb, Submerged is a long epic guitar solo from Eric Bouillette, performed over an expansive keyboard sequence and given room to stretch out and soar. This is very expressive and impressively performed, the backing support adds to the dramatic dynamism of the guitar performance, it is only a short piece but thrilling nonetheless. Other memorable and notable tracks include opener Sleeping Dogs and Safe Haven, which is hinged on some stirring piano chords and motif, sounding not unlike the early 1990’s Windham Hill label albums in places and, yes, that is a good thing, I used to love those album.
A Walk Along The Canal is a moving expressive violin part from Nina Chikvildze. Its mood is one of dignity and expression and creates a warm tone in tandem with the sensitive backing and a great guitar line from Colin, possibly my favourite track of the album, such is its simple beauty. The Navigator is a centrepiece of the album and also the longest, opening with a sixteen piece choir from Chile and Charlie’s ethereal flute tones. This is an excellent track that builds and has another epic guitar solo section, the track moves through its various parts seamlessly and is both highly effective and very memorable with standout performances from all concerned. A delicate acoustic guitar part adds dynamics and allows space for the dreamy keyboards to shimmer and shine clearly and evocatively. This is a simply stunningly well realised track, all the more impressive when you know it was all recorded remotely as the band have never met!
The Night Crossing also impresses, especially Colin’s guitar, as does The Fever Dream that continues in a similar vein. Again, this is keyboard dominated with great supporting bass from Dave Fick, who adds solidarity when required and is more subdued at other times. Any Minute Now is another excellent track with more vibrato vocals from Dave, expressing how we are taken before our time, as was the case with Eric, it is a very moving song. The Noble Lion is a shortish track but one that has lots of movement within it. Ambient type sounds prevailing alongside prominent bass notes, before a memorable piano motif appears, as do the drums, and the track builds in intensity. This carries across into the next track Submerged which takes us back to where this review began.
Return To Haven features more fluid violin from Nina and acoustic guitar sounding synth trickery from Dave. Colin’s suitably fluid electric guitar provides great counterpoint to the violin and synth and this makes for another standout track. Somewhere Between Here & Now begins to draw the album to a close with a spoken introduction from Olivia Steele. Final track, Au Revoir, performed entirely by Eric, is a touching and tender moment, deeply personal and very profound too and serves as a fitting conclusion and celebration of a life taken too soon of a person who will be deeply missed but who leaves us a legacy of emotionally enriched musical excellence.
This is an album to listen to quietly with contemplation and affirms the importance of love and the companionship of friends and that we should treasure those whilst we can. Very impressive and highly recommended.
Released 29th September, 2023.
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