Recording of the Week,
Matt Ridley, 'The Antidote'
British bass player Matt Ridley’s latest recording draws inspiration from his home island’s history of influential rock, folk and classical music, pooling all his interests into his third project and first release for Ubuntu Music. And for sure, the influences are there; even amongst the most freeform sections on The Antidote there are catchy, memorable melodies aplenty, though the quintet are never too far away from taking off into proper jazz improv territory. Not only this, but Ridley’s third studio outing is his most solidly constructed to date, where prog-rock rhythms and lengthy song structures - there are on The Antidote that wouldn’t sound so out-of-place in the ‘70s output of King Crimson or Emerson, Lake & Palmer- provide a surprisingly sophisticated listen amongst all these disparate influences.
Ridley was originally part of the Whirlwind Recordings stable, on which he released his 2013 debut Thymos, featuring an unconventional quartet composition of bass, percussion oud and saxophone. For his 2016 sophomore Mettā, he opted for a more traditional instrumentation, swapping the oud for piano and percussion for a full kit. For the most part his past releases have featured a rotating cast, and on The Antidote he again finds himself with a set of new collaborators, a quintet that’s completed with the addition of electric guitar. Throughout the album he has no qualms with his new bandmates stealing the spotlight for a moment; it’s guitarist Ant Law’s effected electric tones that open up the first track ‘Thalo Blue’, with a chiming and spacey Frisellian texture. Ridley takes centre stage at the beginning of ‘Ebb and Flow’ with some subdued bowed bass, before he’s joined by Law and saxophonist Alex Hitchcock who play in unison with the bass. Another nice low-key moment comes in the palette-cleansing ‘Infant Eyes’, with Law taking the lead on this Wayne Shorter tune with Ridley playing support, while the elegantly accented drums of Marc Mitchell in ‘The Minotaur’ provide a nice rhythmic brain-tickler. Ridley’s compositional style showcases his knack for not only well-crafted structure, but also a great sense of harmony; a tune like ‘Yardeville’ may take some pretty wild detours during its 7-minute runtime, but also features one of the sweetest melodic passages on the record, keeping its almost bittersweet head melody throughout.
Matt Ridley’s style of progressive songwriting truly comes to a head with the four-part ‘Suite’ that comprises the latter half of The Antidote. ‘Pt. 1, Gautoma’ has Ridley stepping into the spotlight for a real rocking bassline, and Hewson’s overdriven keyboard sounds during the heavier sections carry some 70s fusion sounds, while twinkling off towards the end of the track - think the approach of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea circa Miles Davis’s electric period. ‘Pt. 2, Stranger Things’ brings us into the present with Law’s slicing modern-blues guitar, while ‘Pt. 3, Adagio for the Fallen Stars’ provides a brief respite before the climactic ending of ‘Pt. 4, Finale’ to close out the suite and record. While it’s Ridley’s name on the record, many moments throughout The Antidote see his collaborators shining the brightest, particularly Law and Hitchcock, while the bassist himself plays more of a backseater role.
It’s both Ridley’s excellent usage of his collaborators and his penchant for melody that is undoubtedly the main appeal of his music; the careful balance struck between this and more out-there jazz modes keeps The Antidote sounding fresh, with performances from all parties keeping up the vibrant energy throughout.