The third studio album from Balone, AKA bassist and multi-instrumentalist Tony Stewart, continues his passion for instrumental music with the emphasis on jazz/funk. Tony cites Prince, Marcus Miller, Mark King, Stanley Clarke, Nathan East, to mention a few. And although the third album follows firmly within those footprints, Doofa Darl incorporates more progressive elements whilst retaining a healthy dose of pop sensibilities.
Let’s head straight into the music and Access Granted initially lulls the listener into a false sense of security with its laid-back electric piano and ear-friendly guitar, however thirty seconds in and Tom MacMillan kicks in with a solid, meaty guitar riff, punctuated by a powerful stabbing brass arrangement. Love it! We are surely transported across the North Atlantic Ocean and firmly planted on US soil. Access Granted is top drawer jazz funk, chock full of rhythmic fun, starting from the ultra-tight rhythm section, comprising of drummer Sander de Groot and bassist Tony Stewart. One of those tracks that compels the feet to tap and the head to sway.
Like the previous albums, Time To (2016) and Superluminova (2018), the music is primarily instrumental, with the vocals employed to embellish rather than to be the focal point. Something we discover as we hit track two, Wherever You Go I Go, as here the vocals are an added hook to what is an already infectious and radio friendly track. Spirit of Utopia, on the other hand, brings things down nicely, tasty sax licks from Leo Janssen intermingle with silky smooth synths.
There’s a welcome sense of déjà vu with Doofa Darl, much of which is derived from the keyboards. As Balone remarks, he has harnessed the “expressive and wizardly power of legendary synths like Oberheim, Prophet 5, Mini Moog, Yamaha CS80, Roland Jupiter 8 and the Roland Juno 106”.
Now I’m going to skip a few tracks here, not because they are inferior in any way, far from it, the excellent Cruise Control which follows is one of my favourite cuts from the album, shades of the mighty Snarky Puppy perhaps? The reason to move forward is to take a look at the three-part mini epic, The Storm Sentinel.
Clocking in at just shy of fourteen minutes, the music is afforded the time to expand and branch out. First thing to mention is that the ‘groove’ never leaves the room, but entering are a whole host of ‘influences’, including those ‘progressive’ elements mentioned earlier. Part one, [interstellar progression], is a driving monster, funky clavinet, bold brass, and again that rhythm section holding it all together. Underpinning the whole track is an underlying atmosphere, which permeates throughout, bringing the whole piece together, so the transition into [digital immortality] is seamless. The vocal refrain has another earworm hook, and I hear shades of Supertramp, 10cc or perhaps Barclay James Harvest. Concluding the three part The Storm Sentinel is [horizons], and again it’s compelling stuff. Love the arrangement here which invokes the fusioneers of the early ’70s, but with a distinct ’20s vibe. Strong and thematic with a profusion of tasty parts popping in and out the mix. A nod to Tom MacMillan, who not only plays the sweet electric guitar parts but also turns in a rather splendid acoustic solo. PRESS:REPEAT
So where do we go from here? Well Well Well, Jamaica would appear to be the next destination, and Balone’s take on the Grace Jones song. So we are in reggae territory, and like all the music across the album it’s not afraid to suggest one genre and then throw a few in-swingers into the pot. So the Jamaican rhythms of Well Well Well are peppered with those now familiar brass and themed guitar parts. The album closes out with Dum Spiro Spero, bringing together all of the musicians featured across the album. Dum Spiro Spero is one of those tracks that could well last two or three times its duration and never outstay its welcome…
Doofa Darl is a classy album and one that can be enjoyed on many levels. The great production values ensure it will ooze from the hi-fi or into headphones…
01. Access Granted (5:11)
02. Wherever You Go I Go (4:15)
03. Spirit of Utopia (5:27)
04. Cruise Control (4:05)
05. May Be Just A Little (4:23)
06. Old Man Mountain (5:09)
07. The Storm Sentinel (13:55)
– part i [interstellar progression]
– part ii [digital immortality]
– part iii [horizons]
08. Well Well Well (3:50)
09. Some People Are Lonely (4:24)
10. Dum Spiro Spero (4:00)
Total Time – 54:39
Tony Stewart (Balone) – Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Tom MacMillan – Guitars
Lokka – Vocals, Vocal Effects
Hanna Bainbridge – Vocals
Ben Newsome – Vocals
Sander de Groot – Drums
Leo Janssen – Saxophones
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 23rd April 2023