A London-based musician with extensive training in classical, jazz, and beyond, Neil Charles has worked with an impressive array of artists: he's toured with Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke, played on a soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, and frequently collaborates with visionary saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, for a start. The multi-instrumentalist (best known for playing double bass) and producer has been in tune with London's club scene for decades, and his Ben Marc alias is described as being part of an open conversation between jazz and electronic music. Even beyond those broad categories, the project's debut album draws from folk traditions, Afrobeat, soul, poetry, and much more, creating something that eludes easy pigeonholing. He utilizes repetitive figures and melodies the way dance producers like Four Tet and Bonobo would, but with even more of a focus on organic and acoustic instrumentation, combining a live and direct feel with lush studio effects. His usage of stringed instruments, whether plucked or bowed, particularly gives the music a sense of intimacy as well as its distinctive character, to the point of establishing a signature sound. Much of the album is instrumental, with a few guest vocalists providing additional perspectives. Poet/rapper Joshua Idehen delivers defiant lyrics about the state of life in London ("Tomorrow is bound to be better") on "Dark Clouds," and Judi Jackson asks for space to recover ("Healing ain't overnight") on "Give Me Time." Ceasar C briefly appears with a soul-searching rap at the end of "First Batch," and MidnightRoba (Attica Blues) sounds absolutely sublime on the flute-dappled soul-jazz tune "Keep Moving." Elsewhere, "Sweet Nineteen" stands out due to the way it effortlessly shifts from wonky synth-funk to faster, freewheeling drums which take off and glide through the air.
Glass Effect Review
by Paul Simpson