2023 (Rough Draft Audio)
“Quadrivium” is within the genre of progressive jazz-rock the third solo album by English guitarist Nick Fletcher. It all began for him when he graduated from the conservatory in 1981. For years, Fletcher has created various albums of classical guitar music, engaged in session work, and collaborated in different musical projects. In 2018, he collaborated with flutist John Hackett on the beautiful album “Beyond The Stars.” In recent years, he has pursued a solo career, releasing albums such as “Cycles Of Behaviour” (2021) and “The Cloud Of Unknowing” (2022). Now, he presents the instrumental masterpiece “Quadrivium.”
First, let’s delve into the title. The quadrivium represents the four liberal arts that were taught at medieval universities: mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. Fletcher, however, focuses on three disciplines in this album, omitting mathematics, as the album is entirely dedicated to music. Fortunately, he presents these elements in a tasteful and easily digestible manner.
Being a jazz-rock guitarist often involves navigating treacherous waters due to the high level of skill required. The bar is set high, demanding something exceptional to stand out. Nick Fletcher unquestionably meets this challenge. His excellent technique resonates with emotion as he skillfully plays the strings, reminiscent of the delightful style of Alan Holdsworth. Unlike some guitarists who strike each note individually, Fletcher, like Holdsworth, connects his notes more fluidly, playing multiple notes consecutively with a single stroke. What sets him apart is his consistent infusion of jazz-rock with influences from David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, or Andy Latimer. This unique blend makes the album particularly appealing to progressive jazz-rock enthusiasts, especially considering the talented band accompanying Fletcher.
Anika Nilles, a newcomer to the band, handles the drums. With experience playing for Jeff Beck, her skills are evident in the album’s seamless combination of tight grooves and free-flowing fills, complementing Fletcher’s style. This open approach allows bassist Tim Harries, formerly with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and Iona, the freedom to deliver rich and expressive tones. The keyboards are expertly handled by Caroline Bonnett and Dave Bainbridge, a progressive rock veteran of this millennium. Bonnett, in fact, serves as a co-producer of the album. Together, this ensemble, along with Fletcher, provides nearly 55 minutes of delightful musical exploration.
The album opens with the Pink Floyd-esque A Wave On The Ocean Of Eternity, where any comparison to the intro of Shine On You Crazy Diamond is forgiven due to the evident love for the note, impeccable timing, and grand expression. This promising track sets the tone for a diverse album, with each piece offering a unique flavor. The variation between tracks is a pleasant discovery, evident in the first few pieces. Overture To The Cosmos is built on robust riffs with a brief guitar solo interspersed, concluding with an ethereal section showcasing Fletcher’s sense of timing. On the other hand, Riding The Event Horizon is a breezy funk piece featuring a jazzy piano solo by Bainbridge, while the drumless interlude Ziggurat Of Dreams relies on haunting soundscapes.
What makes the album enjoyable is its constant flow, ensuring listeners remain engaged without a dull moment. A closer look at specific tracks, namely Aphelion, The Helix, and Standing On The Edge Of Time, is necessary.
As fate would have it, Aphelion happens to be my favorite track, resonating with the fantastic Camel atmosphere. The guitar bursts, accompanied by sparkling arpeggios, delightful Hammond organ chords, and dynamic bass lines, all supported by Anika Nilles’ top-notch drumwork, create an irresistible blend. My appetite for such musical haute cuisine is insatiable. Whenever I hear the harmonies in a track like The Helix, I envision Eddie Mulder and Nick Fletcher propelling each other to the peaks of their universe. If only that were true. Does this album break new ground? The closing track, Standing On The Edge Of Time, also deserves praise, providing the album with the luster befitting “Quadrivium.”
“Quadrivium” is an album that jazz-rock enthusiasts and progheads alike will enjoy. Who wouldn’t, really?
P.S. The music on the album is clear in its intent, but the meaning behind the peculiar front cover remains a mystery to me.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023