‘Love Sacred & Profane’ from Geoff Eales

Geoff Eales is one of those rare breed of musicians who is at ease in any number of musical situations. A master of many disciplines, he swapped a career in academia for the hurly burly of a jobbing musician many years ago. Though jazz is his first love, he is very much at home accompanying opera stars such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, José Carreras and Lesley Garrett; playing on film soundtracks by Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein and Lalo Schifrin, or performing with the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey, Michael Crawford and Michael Ball. However, he is at his happiest when playing jazz. Jazz is the perfect place for him to delve into his own soul and for his imagination to take flight – something that becomes apparent on Love Sacred & Profane.

Artwork by Bruno Thibault

Love Sacred & Profane is a genre-busting tour-de-force that reflects on the enigma of love with all its complications and contradictions. Eales employs a stellar cast of musicians to help deliver the message: bassist Matt Ridley and drummer Sophie Alloway are a potent force in the engine room, whilst Mark Lockheart, Jason Yarde, Ben Waghorn, Shirley Smart, Carl Orr, and Andy Findon add colour, bite and energy with their stunning performances.

As in his critically acclaimed 2016 record Transience, celebrated vocalist Brigitte Beraha is at the heart of a series of emotionally charged songs. However, on Love Sacred & Profane, Beraha is not the only storyteller. As Eales explains:

As more and more songs wrote themselves, I heard different voices in my head. I believe the inclusion of Jacqui Hicks, Jenny Howe and Brenda Ford on this collection makes for a broader, deeper palette – a smorgasbord of sounds, textures and colours if you will – than otherwise would have been the case.

Geoff Eales

As a composer, Geoff Eales loves to tear down musical barriers and nowhere is this more apparent than on Love Sacred & Profane. Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane is referenced in ‘Prologue’ and ‘Epilogue’, serving to book end the collection. ‘The Sword’ is a fusion roar-up, ‘Feather Light’s’ Latin groove is a nod in the direction of Chick Corea, the asymmetrical rhythms of the title track are redolent of Eastern European folk music; ‘Frazzled’ combines disturbing dissonant off-centre riffs with dystopian free-wheeling improvisation. When Beraha and Lockheart soar towards heaven in Saint Hildegard’s glorious ‘O Virtus Sapientiae’ all earthly troubles and profanities are cast aside. But there is still time to party in ‘The Final Twist’.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the album launch party at the 1901 Arts Club, Exton Street, London. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, and full of excited anticipation. The audience sat amongst the performers who were waiting their turn to take to the stage. The running order was slightly different to that of the album with added numbers in tribute to Tina May and a stunning performance from Ray Roughler Jones on ‘Swirling’, which really was something else. What the album Love Sacred & Profane does not do is convey the energy of the live performance – I am not sure a live recording could have captured it either – but what it does do is highlight the breadth of musical influences Geoff Eales draws upon to create such fascinatingly emotive, evocative and thought provoking compositions.

The tone of Brigitte Beraha’s vocals is pure and clear, whereas Brenda Ford on ‘The Saga of Salome’, brings a more musical theatre sound giving the album that contrast of “sounds, textures and colours” mentioned earlier. The musical accompaniment is grounded in the jazz style but with other styles brought into play to give context to place, setting or mood. And then just when you think you have got your head around how Geoff Eales puts an album together he throws in the curved ball jazz/rock/musical theatre fusion ‘Final Twist’ with wonderful cello work from Shirley Smart followed by Andy Finton on flute.

This is not an out and out jazz record but the jazz style underpins everything presented. The live performance really was something that emphasizes the fact that sometimes you just have to be there (and you will just have to take my word for that). However, each time I listen to this album I hear something new; I revel in the strength of the compositions and the playing; I am transported way beyond the headphones through which I am hearing a musical magpie pull together sounds and ideas to create something exciting, something different.

The album is on the 33 Records label and released Friday, 5 August, 2022

Voaclists: Brigitte Beraha – tracks 1-5, 7, 11, 13. Brenda Ford – track 9. Jacqui Hicks – s tracks 6, 8, backing vocals track 2. Jenny Howe – track 12, backing vocals track 2.

Musicians: Geoff Eales – piano all tracks, Rhodes 8, 12, organ 9, 11. Matt Ridley – bass all tracks except 1, 3, 10, 11. Sophie Alloway – drums all tracks except 1, 3, 10, 11. Mark Lockheart – soprano sax tracks 6, 11 Ben Waghorn – alto sax tracks 2, 9, 12, soprano sax / bass clarinet track 9. Jason Yarde – alto sax track 4. Andy Findon – flute tracks 5, 7, 9, 12, penny whistle track 8. Carl Orr – guitar tracks 2, 12. Shirley Smart – cello tracks 2, 3, 4, 12.

Tracklist: 1. Prologue. 2. The Sword. 3. The Deal. 4. Frazzled. 5. Feather Light. 6. Love Not Meant To Be. 7. Love Sacred & Profane. 8. Song For My Mother. 9. The Saga Of Salome. 10. Road To Damascus. 11. O Vitus Sapentiae. 12. The Final Twist. 13 Epilogue.

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