Charlie Cawood – The Divine Abstract

Charlie Cawood (Pronounced “Kay-Wood”) has been working on this album for many years. Has his hard work paid off?

It is always good to hear an album that feels meticulously presented. From the opening sustained bass note and apparent sitar improvisation that transforms into a riff with the aid of percussion in the second minute of the album, to the fading notes signifying the album’s end, the standard of writing, production, arrangement and performance is of such a high calibre that it I am slightly in awe of it.

I think it is beyond debate that Charlie Cawood moves in talented circles. The Divine Abstract is awash with lush sounds played by Charlie and his supporting collection of, frankly, stunning musicians. These musicians have played with bands who might be associated with psychedelic or progressive rock, but also from bands and artists both orbiting and living within the classical world of symphony orchestras and chamber music.

It speaks volumes that an artist can work with artists from a variety of musical ensembles ranging from Chrome Hoof, Haken, Knifeworld, Mediaeval Bæbes, and North Sea Radio Orchestra to the Oberon and BBC Symphony Orchestras.

A huge variety of musical instruments are featured that may or may not be associated with Rock music – some are most definitely not! The music on this album perfectly reflects this variety in a rich pool of sound. Contrary to what you might expect it’s refreshing that such a progressive take on music should use such traditional instrumentation. Old is the new New. The use of percussion from around the World and the sound of more traditional brass, wind and reed throughout this album makes a refreshing change from that tired old combination of guitar/bass/vocals/keyboards/drums. Furthermore, there’s a gentle serenity produced by the absence of drums. Don’t get me wrong, I love drums. Drums appeal to our primal instinct, and whilst rock music needs to and indeed should appeal on that level, I think this album leans toward a more contemplative experience and less toward the instinctual. The rhythm is carried sufficiently throughout the album despite any obvious bass/snare/hi-hat/tom-tom/cymbal based kit and I did not miss them at all. It is still very rhythmical, it just inspired a new wave of interpretive dance around my office instead of the usual “dad dancing”, though neither is a pretty sight.

As for the listening experience, The Divine Abstract apparently finishes as soon as it has started. All that planet-whirling-through-space stuff stopped for forty-five minutes. That’s messing with time, that is, but in a good way. The track, Garden Of The Mind invokes memories of (note; not “sounds like”) waking up to the sounds of progressive rock flute issuing from one room, Phillip Glass or Gerry Mulligan from another. In places, heavily chorused bass guitar is combined with Japanese instrumentation reminiscent of what that progressive bunch, (yes, progressive) Japan were achieving with Richard Barbieri’s sound design on their album Tin Drum back in 1981. The bass on The 32nd Path (which, as we all know, is the Path Of Tau between Malkuth and Yesod) made me think of Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water album. Yet this is no nostalgia trip. Any similarities I have drawn, I believe, are more likely a product of parallel evolution than influence. I may have just started peeking out from under my rock (d’you see what I did there) as far as this circle of musicians is concerned but Charlie Cawood’s music on this album, for me, has an originality and identity all its own and everything about it is symbolises progress.

Charlie has pulled off an amazing thing. He has used sitar without making it sound like a rock cliché. The name of the album and tracks itself and the use of eastern instruments hint at an element of spirituality in the songwriting and performance aspects of his work. Even though there are definite references to concepts like ascension to divine status this isn’t the work of some old hippie. There is a reference to a very grounded concept known as echolalia, a psychiatric disorder, showing that Charlie has a foot in the real World. Spirituality for a modern age.

I’ve been trying to sum up the album and I think I have a fitting, single word. How fortunate we are to be living in an age where music can be held in machines. Bits of information held firm… strings of moments solidified. When played back these moments are released into the atmosphere and as they hit your brain these vibrations make sense again. The time within which these sounds exist again is fleeting. Then, when the vibrations are finished, the moments that were music are returned to the machine, solid once again, until the next time that we release them. Momentous?

Mathematics is the language of music, perhaps for all things. Even with this language the sciences probably fail to define whatever it is that makes us love music. There may be a mathematical and scientific explanation but how can you calculate the spiritual component to music? Perhaps this is the reason that the word “soul” keeps popping up. No, Soul is not the word.

So, the word? It is a word that we might use in the context of elegance, excellence or beauty, a word that also captures the modernity of musical direction. When it all adds up then that word is “Sublime”. Despite the album alluding to spirituality this word has meaning in the scientific world, specifically chemistry. I am told by Google, that it means “A solid changing directly into vapour when heated, typically forming a solid deposit again on cooling” – machine to vibration (to nothing) to machine. Perfect.

The Divine Abstract is sublime by any definition of the word.

Yes, Charlie Cawood’s hard work has paid off.

01. Shringara (3:19)
02. The Divine Abstract: Echolalia (1:08)
03. The Divine Abstract: The Earth’s Answer (3:26)
04. The Divine Abstract: Fearful Symmetry (2:34)
05. The Divine Abstract: The Western Lands (1:58)
06. Earth Dragon: The Golden Flower (1:56)
07. Earth Dragon: An Invisible Landscape (3:30)
08. Earth Dragon: Origin Of A New Being (3:09)
09. Garden Of The Mind (6:44)
10. The 32nd Path (6:19)
11. In A Floating World (3:51)
12. Apotheosis (7:15)

Total Time – 45:09

Charlie Cawood – Acoustic, Electric & Classical Guitars, Fender VI, Acoustic & Electric Bass Guitars, Sitar & Pipa
Alexandra Petropoulos – Flute
Ben Marshall – Oboe & Cor Anglais
Ben Woollacott – Drums, Percussion & Cymbals
Chlöe Herington – Bassoon
Dennis Kwong Thye Lee – Xiao
Diego Tejeida – Piano
Elizabeth Nott – Darbouka, Riq, Frame Drum
Flora Curzon – Violin
Francesca Ter-Berg – Cello
Hannah Davis – Vibraphone & Glockenspiel
James Larcombe – Piano & Dulcitone
Josh Perl – Clarinet & Bass Clarinet
Julie Groves – Flute
Katharine Blake – Treble & Sopranino Recorders
Lucie Treacher – Kendang, Ceng Ceng, Gong, Kempur, Kenang, Klentong, Kempli & Genterak
Lucy Brown – French Horn
Nicki Maher – Clarinet
Oliver Sellwood – Baritone Saxophone
Steve Holmes – Piano, Celeste, Minimoog, Bass Synth
Wang Xiao – Erhu

Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 3rd November 2017

Charlie Cawood – Facebook | Bandcamp