James Beckwith is a graduate of Leeds College of Music and Trinity Laban Conservatoire and a sought after musician on the London scene. While he has performed and collaborated with musicians such as Sharky, Alex Hitchcock and Nubya Garcia, he is ready to amaze with his debut album. The genre-spanning album Long Distance is a showcase of his mellow and lyrical songs.
The album is dedicated to a romance that spanned Montreal to London over four years. The use of different musical styles helps you connect with the 5000 km dance done by Beckwith and his significant other. The album includes collaborations with the dynamic saxophonists Alex Hitchcock and Chelsea Carmichael as well as bassist Joe Downard, drummer Harry Pope and singer Zoe Kypri.
The album starts with a short track called ‘Intro’. Under a minute, the song gives you a taste of what to expect from the rest of the album. It also sets up the theme of the album using spoken word reminiscent of old documentaries.
‘Topimpa’ hits you with distorted vocals to set a space-like vibe to the track. This is somewhat at odds with the light jazz piano that runs the melody. The underlying melody of this track has a great funky beat to it that somehow works with the electro vocals even when you feel they shouldn’t. This is one of the longest songs on the album and gives the different instruments the chance to shine.
‘Retro Machines’ uses a funky drum line that really gets you into the mood of the song. The horns are wonderful on this track as they come in and out of focus. There are some vintage jazz lines in this song that are combined with a light electronic overlayer that just add a little something to them. There is something about this song that just hooks you and keeps hold of you from start to finish.
The title track ‘Long Distance’ has an almost pining feeling to it. The slow build-up of the track lays the foundation of the mood which is continued through the piano lines. You can almost taste the longing in the notes. The faster tempo of the piano at times is almost like a conversation and adds an intensity and pace to the song. It is a skilfully structured track that takes you through longing, frantic actions and back to a more relaxed state.
‘Things We Do (Interlude)’ has more synth to it and goes back to the distortion of the intro. The lyrics of this track make you consider what people will do in order to be together. There is also a sense of uncertainty in this song which is highlighted by the spoken word and ringing phone within the track.
The next track is ‘With You’ which has this great melodic jazzy vibe to it. Parts of the track have a familiar feeling to them, but there is something unique about it. The distorted vocals work very well with the flowing melody of the song. There are a few changes in the tone of the track which is a real journey to go on. You are taken through light-speed high synths before being put down for some sultry jazz notes. This is the longest song on the album and packs a lot into each second.
‘Money’ has a beat that you cannot help but get into. There is an afrobeat base to the beat that is threaded with the funky jazz you have come to expect from the album. There is a frenetic pace to the tack which is more an underlying feeling than fast-paced playing. The layers of music on this track are amazingly interwoven to create a rich soundscape that keeps you engaged. The different instruments all have a chance to shine and add there own little something to the song.
‘Night City (Interlude)’ is a gentle piano-driven track. This song is a great way to relax after the movement of ‘Money’. There is just something peaceful about the song even with the scratching tones and galactic synths. It really is the perfect interlude in the album that leads you to an acceleration.
‘SAAD’ stands for Synthesizer, Accelrando And Drone but really gets you into the vibe with the arching vocals. The vocals pierce through you to draw you into the song. While they give way to the instruments they continue to come in and out of the track to add this depth to the song. The deep electronic beats of the track add a third layer. The different layers of the song would be wonderful on their own and you would not think they would work together very well. However, the arrangement is so artful that you can’t imagine them being separate.
‘All Yours’ hits you with some distorted vocals that combine with smooth harmonisations. The lyrics of this track are relatable and easy to connect with while the horns interject to add some groove to the proceedings. There is also this catchy drum throughout the song that gets you moving to the rhythm. The spoken word in this song links to the opening track bringing the album full circle.
‘With You – Live Sesh’ has more synth in it than the other version of the song on the album. This version of the track is also shorter than the other which adds a completely different feeling to it. While you know it is ‘With You’, you could think it is a completely new song. The vocals on this version are fun to listen to while the melody gets you moving.
The last track on the album is ‘Long Distance – Remix’ which also has more synth than the other version. There is an almost bubbling tone to the remix that removes a little of the longing from the vibe. The track is still true to the studio version but is slightly shorter. There is a heavier beat to this version that could make the song more approachable for some people.
James Beckwith mixes pulsating synths with mellow jazz and funky grooves to take you on the journey that is Long Distance. The album is a masterclass in modern composing as each track is perfectly calibrated to be engaging while highlighting all instruments. You are also emotionally engaged with the tracks whether they are instrumental or not.