Hot on the heels of the Berlin Suite & Other Short Stories EP, released in September of this year, Neil Campbell returns with Faldum, the penultimate release for 2022. In many respects the delightful Berlin Suite & Other Short Stories acts, if unintentionally, as a appropriate introduction to Faldum. Commonalities in the music perhaps go without saying, and the album rekindles the partnership of Neil Campbell, cellist Nicole Collarbone and Jon Lawton on programming and electronics from said release. Completing the line-up here is Amy Chalmers on violins.
Faldum is a concept album, something Neil has successfully tackled across his career. The early 2010s saw an ambitious stage adaptation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, and more recently, during 2018 and 2019, the fascinating Flood Trilogy, The Outsider ~ News From Nowhere, After the Flood and Last Year’s News, based on the writings of William Morris.
So, no stranger to the conceptual album, Neil’s latest release is based around German poet Hermann Hesse’s 20th Century fairytale based on the fictional city of Faldum and its populace. The peoples of Faldum are industrious and as a result enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Hesse’s story begins at the time of the annual fair, describing in great detail the landscape, the Faldum inhabitants, and offering up an early opportunity for Hesse to introduce some of the characters as they make their way to the marketplace for the much anticipated gathering. Hesse describes an almost idyllic setting – a bright sunny morning, young and old in all their Sunday finery, baskets of flowers, fruit and vegetables, groomed horses and decorative carriages, flags fluttering in the breeze. A colourful and joyous preamble to the day.
Capturing the setting musically, the opening Overture is bright and breezy with the multitudinous, interweaving strings breathing life and animation into Hesse’s descriptive. However, by its nature an overture introduces ‘themes’ and concepts the listener will subsequently hear across the piece, so the urgent string arrangement subsides leaving Neil’s deft guitar accompanied by a wonderfully melancholic stringed movement. A portent of change? Once again the busier arrangement returns before gradually dissolving into the aether…
Not only does Overture set out a musical template, but it also acts as a striking introduction to the written narrative. As mentioned, Hesse’s Faldum is fairytale and therefore underneath the paradisal setting we might expect to find darker elements, a bittersweet tale, mysterious characters and an underlying moral lesson.
Only two tracks are ‘named’ on the album, the aforementioned Overture and album closer The Mountain. So Neil’s six part Faldum suite eschews any reference to the characters and simply lists the pieces Faldum One to Faldum Six. With no lyrical content it is therefore down to the listener to decide whether or not the music portrays certain characters or events from the story. I’m going to hazard a guess and suggest Faldum One is based around one of the main characters, the enigmatic ‘stranger’. Why? Well Faldum One is the most contrasting piece on the album. I may well be mistaken in my assumption, regardless, Faldum One is an exquisite, slow-burning slab of progressive jazz fusion, something from the Mahavishnu mould perhaps?
I’m wary, however, of tying down too many characters and events as I believe that Neil’s vision takes a more holistic interpretation of Hesse’s short story and despite the detail afforded to the people and surroundings, the Stranger is central to Hesse’s tale. Furthermore, and to these ears, the ‘violin player’ and latterly his companion are key elements in Neil’s interpretation. What is assured is that each of the Faldum pieces are replete in spirit and temper, whilst rich in melody and texture. Nicole and Amy are simply stunning throughout, whether it be in the melancholic Faldum Three, the tortured, but totally absorbing Faldum Five, or the wonderful Latin infused jazzy excursion that is Faldum Four. Take your pick…
In Hesse’s tale the Stranger arrives at the market place where he grants a number of wishes to those congregated around a stall selling mirrors. News spreads and the market place soon fills with those keen to have their desires bestowed. As might be expected the wishes vary greatly – from a simple biscuit or a string of sausages, to good health, wealth and great beauty – I’m sure you get the picture. Finally there were only two young men who had not heard the miraculous news. Eventually both make their way to the marketplace where the stranger proclaims he was just about to leave, but will grant them their wishes. The first young man proclaims: “I wish I could have a violin and play it in such a wonderful way that nothing in the whole world would be able to disturb me with its noise anymore.” The second young man, annoyed by the loss of his musical companion, wishes to become a mountain so he can listen and observe forever, all that lies before him.
With the final two wishes granted, the Stranger departs…
In his tale Hesse describes the fate of the second young man who wished to be a mountain, outlining the passage of time spanning years, centuries and millennia. Hesse also depicts the ever-changing landscape of Faldum, where the miracle of the rising mountain is eventually confined to folklore. The people of Faldum have gone, and the city no longer exists. No longer able to observe or listen to people of Faldum the mountain becomes increasingly isolated and despairing. Hesse concludes his tale when the Stranger returns, and speaks to the mountain. “Don’t you want to make a wish?”. The mountain makes a silent wish and is released from his immortal torment…
With sixteen-plus minutes given to the closing track, Neil and his musical companions afford themselves the freedom to follow the mountain’s entropic demise. A truly spellbinding sixteen-minutes, a masterclass of artistry and minimalism. Gently chiming layers of undulating guitar beautifully capturing the increasing desolation of the mountain along with its slowly eroding landscape and surroundings. The Mountain is a wonderfully elegant and understated piece, gently evolving, whilst the gradual introduction of the melancholic strings is simply inspired. A truly captivating finale…
Over the years I have much enjoyed and had the pleasure of reviewing numerous releases from Neil Campbell and guests, each one with its own distinct and unique signature. Expectations therefore are always high and thus far have never fallen short of those expectations, however with Faldum the bar has been raised to new heights.
01. Overture (10:39)
02. Faldum One (3:03)
03. Faldum Two (4:00)
04. Faldum Three (3:57)
05. Faldum Four (3:24)
06. Faldum Five (4:06)
07. Faldum Six (3:14)
08. The Mountain (16:41)
Total Time – 49:04
Neil Campbell – Classical, Acoustic, Electric & Bass Guitars, Keyboards, Electronics
Amy Chalmers – Violins
Nicole Collarbone – Cellos
Jon Lawton – Drum Programming, Electronics
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th Novemeber 2022