Songwriter and composer Richard Wileman released fourteen albums under the Karda Estra name before commencing on a solo career that is now three albums old, the latest being Arcana in 2020, with a collaboration with Matt Baber of Sanguine Hum also released at the start of 2022.
While the solo albums are more song-based, Wileman has now returned – at least temporarily – to the more Gothic and cosmic environs of Karda Estra to produce this second volume of Alternate History, following on from the first, released way back in 2004. This remastered compilation features seven previously released Karda Estra tracks plus seven non-album tracks, recorded either for other projects or unreleased archive pieces.
The featured album tracks come from Karda Estra releases in the decade 2006 to 2016, the earliest being the off-kilter elegance of the title track from The Age of Science & Enlightenment, the most recent being Andromeda Approaches from Time and Stars, a beautifully otherworldly piece with gorgeous vocal from Ileesha Bailey set against organ and clarinet, but the set opens in 2007 with Atom of Warmth from The Last of the Libertine, an edgy yet calming piece with piano at its core amid orchestral flourishes and a key role for the clarinet.
Next we have two lengthier pieces, guitar taking a more central role for the playful The Wanton Subtlety of Monna Tessa, from 2015’s lovely Strange Relations, with beautifully lilting wordless vocals (and strange farty noise at the end!). Mondo Profondo 2, unsurprisingly from 2013’s Mondo Profondo, is soaring and quietly epic, showing Wileman’s skill in realising fascinatingly vivid pieces of music, here utilising the talents of Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld), Phil Mercy (Thieves’ Kitchen) and Marco Bernard (The Samurai of Prog).
The Atom Age Sense of Impermanence comes from 2009’s Weird Tales, offering a tantalising mix of acoustic and modernistic, ethereal beauty set against iconoclastic threat with Bailey’s wordless voice a focal point alongside clarinet and oboe. The breadth of the instrumentation and the deft way that Wileman uses the textures at his disposal are what make for such an enthralling listen. The last album track is the sax-driven slinky space-lounge jazz of Invaders From Venus, from 2011’s New Worlds.
The non-album tracks are very interesting, taking in some diverse covers. Ennio Morricone’s Beat No 3 is a haunting piano-led rendition with saxophone and clarinet from Amy Fry, started in 2006 but not completed until this year. Tigermoth is an idiosyncratic reinterpretation of the Steve Hackett track from Spectral Mornings, originally released on the 2013 Hackett tribute album Steppes Beyond the Colossus, released on the Italian Mellow label. It kicks off in metallic form but the lilting choruses and otherworldly feel places it squarely in Karda Estra territory, the familiar refrain emerging after four-minutes with Bailey’s plaintive vocal. A wonderful recreation, gently acoustic and warming.
Fold 2 is from The Exquisite Corpse Game, an intriguing 2013 release from Kavus Torabi’s Believers Roast label. The album’s premise is a musical version of a Victorian parlour game, creating a linked piece of music from separate four-minute ‘folds’, written after hearing only the last 20-seconds of the preceding piece and intended to complement it while carrying the whole forward. Here, Wileman’s choice of harsh edges and sidesteps keep you on your toes and it’s a lovely piece to immerse yourself in.
Waltz of the Veiled King is a beautiful flute and acoustic guitar rearrangement of a track by Jane Murphy from the compilation album The King in Yellow. Again, the floating wordless vocals work beautifully and it’s a lovely lilting melody with an air of melancholy at its heart. Nemesis First Contact takes things in a new direction with a 2022 reworking of the original idea and demo of Nemesis from 2017’s Infernal Spheres. The result is a different beast, less ethereal and more stripped down with a haunting quality of its own, led by a strident piano.
The unreleased outtake Karda A.D. 1972 was originally intended for Mondo Profondo. Dropped for a track that better suited the mood, probably due to its spikey edges, it’s a treat to hear it now. Finally, It Would Be So Nice is a cover of an early Pink Floyd single written by Richard Wright, originally from the Echoes of Secrets tribute album, the multi-layered vocals and subtle ’60s vibe making for a lovely upbeat way to close.
Overall, these tracks hang together as an intriguing collection, once again underlining Richard Wileman’s skill as a composer and arranger. The wide range of tracks serve well to frame Wileman’s oeuvre and this collection is a fine starting point for those unfamiliar with Karda Estra, the additional non-album tracks being an excellent bonus for those already captured by the spell of this most deserving of artists.
01. Atom of Warmth (5:25)
02. The Wanton Subtlety of Monna Tessa (7:41)
03. Mondo Profondo 2 (8:42)
04. Beat No 3 (4:09)
05. Andromeda Approaches (3:58)
06. The Age of Science & Enlightenment (4:53)
07. Tigermoth (7:41)
08. The Atom Age Sense of Impermanence (5:24)
09. Fold 2 (4:08)
10. Waltz of the Veiled King (2:40)
11. Nemesis First Contact (4:51)
12. Invaders From Venus (3:27)
13. Karda A.D. 1972 (5:30)
14. It Would Be So Nice (4:29)
Total Time – 73:00
Richard Wileman – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Kalimba, Appalachian Dulcimer, Bouzouki, Accordion
Amy Fry – Clarinet, Saxophone
Helen Dearnley – Violin (tracks 1 & 12)
Caron de Burgh – Cor Anglais, Oboe (tracks 1,2 & 12)
Zoë Josey – Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone (track 1)
Ileesha Bailey – Vocals
Louise Hirst – Trumpet (track 1)
Mohadev – Guitar, Keyboards (track 3)
Benjamin DeGain – Vibraphone, Percussion (track 3)
Stu Rowe – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Drums (track 3)
Kavus Torabi – Guitar (track 3)
Phil Mercy – Keyboards, Guitar, Drums (track 3)
Marco Bernard – Bass (track 3)
Jo Court – Bass Clarinet
Mike Ostime – Trumpet
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 13th May 2022