JAMES ASHER/ARTHUR HULL, On the Good Foot
On the Good Foot, an extraordinary, rhythmically eclectic and sonically expansive two EP set by longtime collaborators and drum circle pals James Asher and Arthur Hull, artfully celebrates the deeper complexities of “Energy” and “Chill” with an otherworldly swirl of all the musical vibes that the UK based Asher – a composer and multi-instrumentalist whose arsenal includes keyboards, percussion and drums - has spent his lengthy career exploring. Driven alternately by dense percussion and free-floating atmospheres, he and famed drummer/percussionist Hull share their passion for soul, funk, jazz, ambient and mystical new age and world music.
Considering that the new dual collection marks the 30th anniversary of Asher’s breakthrough album The Great Wheel, the 11 collective tracks of On the Good Foot create the perfect open door for those unfamiliar with Asher’s multi-faceted discography to get started. One of the benefits of the digital age is the opportunity to experience an artist’s entire catalog at once, and Asher’s offers a multitude. The main themes he’s delved into on various projects include Meditations in Colour, World Music, African and Aboriginal music, Indian music (especially his landmark 1998 work Tigers of the Raj) and trance music.
His earlier professional experience will intrigue classic rock fans, too. He played drums on Pete Townshend’s 1980 solo album Empty Glass, and The Who guitarist produced an early single for Asher. Asher’s fascination with drumcircles led him to cross paths and start working with Hull, one of the genre’s most popular and charismatic artists. Hull has been Asher’s most longstanding collaborator since 2003, and On the Good Foot represents their 11th joint release.
There’s a reason behind the playful mention of “fun” that Hull receives in the project’s credits after “drums, percussion, drawings, vision.” It was Hull’s visit to Asher’s home last October that propelled the recording. The two thought about the extremes cluttering and darkening our days in 2018, from intense weather to political divisiveness – and decided to create a unique collection in response to Asher’s question “Where have those elements gone that used to put a twinkle in our eye?” Their longing for a sense of fun – and Hull’s ability to bring that to the party – is truly the foundation of this multi-faceted journey. Asher mentions in a blurb about On the Good Foot that the music is a coherent expression “in response to our increasingly crazy world – or should I say despite it?”
Yet the more profound joys of the experience lie in the thematic dichotomies and melodic, rhythmic eclecticism – along with the duo’s freewheeling interactions with an array of inventive and intuitive musicians. These include Sandeep Raval (Remo Apex Djembe, drum programming, Wicked Ginger), Bruce Knapp (guitars), Jason Salmon (didgeridoo), Tom Phelan (keyboards), Greg Heath (sax), Daz Bants and Tom Fairbairn (bass) and vocalist Ziza Stupkova, whose imaginative lyrics and sultry vocals turn the dreamy and hypnotic, didgeridoo laced “Island Farewell” into the emotional core of the “Chill” EP.
Make no mistake, however, “Chill” doesn’t mean sleepy, just meditative and relaxing. Symphonic pieces like the harp and vocal choir laced “Camera Obscura, and ethereal “Far and Wide” (which pulls the soul along via angelic wordless vocalizing) are immersive and profoundly thought provoking. Sort of like spa music with colorful twists and turns, these tracks, as well as the breathy and mystical “Supermoon,” and “Sublte Light Navigation” – the hypnotic ten minute closer featuring chimes and otherworldly synth-generated vocal accents – have a soothing, therapeutic quality that makes them an ideal sonic tool for holistic wellness (if one so chooses). They will help soothe the worries of the day while provoking breakthroughs in creative thinking.
The tone and intention of the “Energy” EP are a complete 180 from the “Chill,” offering an explosion of jazzy, funky jamming and an intensely percussive global consciousness to combat the world’s frequent chaotic darkness and despair. It kicks off with “Jungle Party,” a wild, visceral fusion of spirited synth, jungly nature soundscapes and tribal, trance-dance grooves designed to create hypnosis amidst tons of pleasurable physical movement. Pure jangle and frolic throughout, the infectious title track “On the Good Foot” keeps the body movement flowing with lively piano and electric guitar driven jazz fusion.
Driven by Greg Heath’s soulful sax, “Optimatum” showcases Asher and Hull’s more commercial pop side, with an adventurous romp that would fit perfectly on any radio station that plays contemporary urban jazz. Ditto the super funky and melodic “Mr. Snap,” which pits Heath’s punchy horn over dense, danceable R&B grooves. Propelled by Bruce Knapp’s snappy electric guitar combustion and some of the album’s most engaging piano musings, “Firewalk” skirts the line between urban jazz and classic rock-influenced jazz fusion. Completing the “Energy” shift is the buoyant, bouncy “Full Ahead Mr. Zulu,” which blends trippiness and ambience with audacious synth excursions and relentless dance floor thump.