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Tom Moore & Archie Churchill-Moss Tom Moore & Archie Churchill-Moss
Album: Laguna
Label: Hotel Recordings
Tracks: 11

The names of these two musicians should be familiar to anyone who’s followed the fortunes of the trio Moore Moss Rutter, who were recipients of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2011. Latterly, both Tom and Archie have been “moonlighting” as part of the strange combo False Lights (brainchild of Jim Moray and Sam Carter), while Archie has also been part of the lineup of Sam Kelly’s Lost Boys. I’m not sure whether MMR is on hold right now, but Jack’s out doing solo gigs and touring with Molly Evans, and this duo album was financed by a creative bursary from the EFDSS, so it would seem that Tom and Archie are taking the duo format seriously.

Laguna is an all-instrumental album lasting for just 32 minutes, consisting not of tune-sets as such but of original compositions and improvisations. Their special personal empathy as musicians ensures that they capitalise on the unique qualities of the combination of Tom’s viola/violin and Archie’s melodeon, albeit in a largely non-traditional context. This means that their reference points are less obvious and sometimes even a touch impenetrable perhaps for us mere mortals whose instrumental-playing ability is strictly zero (but still hopefully know good music when we hear it!). The sleeve notes make at least a game attempt to explain much of the rationale behind (or inner workings of) of these pieces, even if sometimes it only deepens the mystery. But it’s also all too easy to get drawn into the sound-world they conjure, which manages to be at once rarefied (in texture) and mildly luxurious (in pure tone). There’s also a strong feel of minimalism to some of the pieces such as the linked pair of Laguna I and II, further developed to a logical degree on feeding Frenzy, whereas Trapdoors intertwines parts generated by a cyclic riff and On The Douro explores the potential of the off-beat pulse offset between the instruments. Resonator has the extra dimension of ground bass and electronic treatment, while Nina’s Tune conveys the atmospheric grandeur of a Norwegian fiddle melody. The improvisation Universeum is more expansive, possibly recalling Lau in its inventive spirit, whereas the most orthodox treatment of parts and ideas is saved for the contemporary schottische West Park, the Purcellian transposition Hayley’s & Henry’s, and closing track Crooked Man (a genial waltz inspired by the named character from that particular nursery rhyme).

The majority of the album’s 11 tracks are quite short in duration, so it’s easy not to become bored, but the whole record leaves me with a vaguely insubstantial lasting-impression in spite of the unquestionable musicianship and imagination on display. That’s where, for the moment, I’m drawing the line in qualifying my recommendation to go seek this disc out.

David Kidman