This is the third CD the British saxophonist has recorded for the 33Jazz label and an exciting one it is. Theo Travis' second album, View From the Edge, was voted Best British Jazz CD of 1994 by the Jazz on CD readers/critics poll. Travis' musical interests are in no way limited to jazz. Since May 1999 he has been part of the group Gong, whose music has been described as cosmic-psychedelic-jazz-improvised-progressive rock-space metal, etc. The psychedelic influence is apparent on "Crow Road," with Travis' soprano attempting to excise or feed the demons those 1960s-culture drugs begot. This cut notwithstanding, Secret Island offers over 60 minutes of music of varying moods by Travis and his able band members, augmented from time to time with invited guests. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" has a calypso beat laid down by Gary Hammond's congas and Marc Parnell's drums. The opener "Lulworth Night" is a heady and quite pretty musical dissertation by Travis and pianist David Gordon. The only song on the play list Travis didn't write, Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square," is done as sophisticated swing featuring some excellent work by Gordon in McCoy Tyner mode. On this cut (one of the album's highlight tracks), Travis' tenor assumes a light, delicate sound as Gary Hammond again adds a subtle calypso beat on congas. "Waterlily Boogie" belies its title, which hints at a bouncy syncopated tempo yet the track turns out to be melancholy, a mood Rob Statham's bowed bass helps to create. While Statham's contribution is notable, the tune is built around a very thoughtful tête-à-tête between Travis' tenor and Gordon's piano, revealing that their long association has led to an intuitive sense where each fully understands the other's improvisional intent. "Details" builds on Gordon's measured opening chords which act as a segue to Travis' thoughtful sax, as the bass plucks along at a much faster pace underneath in contrast. The sax player does some very ruminative noodling on this track, surrounded by chilling chords extracted from John Etheridge's guitar. The liner notes include an exhortation that "this CD sounds even better loud." Very bad advice. The melodic and harmonic subtleties are lost when the volume is turned up. Travis must have been wearing his Gong hat when he suggested this. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan