“The music, like that on the predecessor discs, eludes a clear stylistic classification. An intense, hypnotic-flowing freerock with kraut, jazz rock and Canterbury references is what continues to be among the most progressive music produced in the extended rock environment today.” – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
“Delivering a high class improvised but melodic adventure through the world of modern minimalistic post-prog/fusion/jazz.” – Strutter’zine
“Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere own their influences, graphically and aurally, whilst at the same time turning paradox on its head. Chance, found sounds, quotes, suppressed ‘head knowledge’ and pre-written composition all swirl together in a terrific 70 minute musical menagerie. – Steve Day, 2023 www.wyldepublications.com
“An extremely enjoyable and endlessly fascinating suite of songs. Theta Six is an essential addition to anyone’s collection.” -Mr Olivetti, FREQ
Martin Archer – woodwind, organ, software instruments, voice
Steve Dinsdale – drums, keyboards
Lorin Halsall – acoustic and electric double basses, electronics
Yvonna Magda – violin, electronics
Andy Peake – piano, keyboards
Walt Shaw – drums, percussion, voice
Jan Todd – vocals, voices, laptop electronics, software instruments and samples, original found sounds, celtic harp, cross strung harp, jouhikko, alto tagelharpa, idiopan
Terry Todd – bass guitar
Theta Six – OUA’s sixth album – is an ever morphing tapestry of new sounds arriving via wormhole direct from the left field progressive sound universe. It evolved from a studio session of bass driven rhythms followed next day by a marathon free-improvisation session. These sessions were amalgamated through a high impact collision which made extensive use of chance procedures, and then carefully sculpted and arranged for horns and voices by Martin and Jan.
The music is heard as a single continuous suite with certain motifs repeating across the arc of the album. OUA often approaches the ‘laminal’ AMM style of improvisation when improvising freely, which contrasts with the melodic solos which fly over the rhythm landscapes, where only Terry’s creative basslines were the starting point. The results are fluid, a seamless merging, where surprising soundscapes raise their heads above the lava flow of musical ideas.
Echoes of Zeuhl music, progressive jazzrock, Sun Ra style jams and textural free improv are heard throughout.
Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere’s Theta Six once again brings their eclectic mix of free improvisation, jazz, rock, dub and electronica into sharp and often startling contrast. As carefully crafted unison themes rise and fall, a constantly fluid mix of taut strings, etherial voices, earthy saxes, spectral keyboards and glowering rhythm sections swim in and out of the mix. At times the tunes and open-ended passages evoke vintage Floyd, Soft Machine and Terry Riley, as they morph and evolve in to new impressionistic shapes and colours. It’s powerful, mesmeric and immersive. – Sid Smith, PROG.
In March 2023, the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere will release its sixth album, “Θ6”. The line-up is the same as the predecessor “Θ5”. This is also shown inside the folding digifile, this time in a very original way. Five members of the octet are hanging around in a room à la Soft Machine. You recreate exactly the photo that adorned the inside of the flip cover of “Third”. Even the duvet has the same pattern, there are just as many empty wine bottles on the side table and also the anonymous feet in the foreground are present. Very iconic! The remaining three musicians can be seen on posters on the wall. Certain Canterbury references, especially reminiscences of Soft Machine, have always been present in the music of the OUA. There are also ones on “Θ6”. However, they are not overly dominant or style-determining. A long, continuous suite represents “Θ6”, in which all numbers merge seamlessly into each other. The music floats quite ethereally, according to the band name, mostly freely improvised or clay painting, sometimes also dancing a bit jazzed, electronic-herbaceous floating, or retroprogressively rumbling. Hypnotic-repetitive, organ patterns sounding like the early 70s, reverberating electric piano webs, growling bass lines, worn to brisk violin, creaking double bass verbiage, quite a lot of drums and percussion, various other keyboard sounds and electronic hissing, creaking and beeping, all sorts of woodwind and some other instrumental embellishments are mixed into a dense whole, which sometimes glides airy, sometimes scurrys free-format, sometimes dynamic, although always rather relaxed rocks, sometimes hypnotically pulsating, but very homogeneous, like a mighty river meanders there. Also woven are various, mostly textless vocal interludes, especially female ones by Jan Todd alias frostlake. Comparisons? An ethereal version of Soft Machine perhaps, interwoven with cosmic-meditative-repetitive krautrock, as Yatha Sidhra, Between or Popol Vuh have made, but provided with a slightly edgier, improvised-ton-tinkering sound. Ultimately, however, the music, like that on the predecessor discs, eludes a clear stylistic classification. An intense, hypnotic-flowing freerock with kraut, jazz rock and Canterbury references is what continues to be among the most progressive music produced in the extended rock environment today. Thus, “Θ6” is highly recommended to all those who like to stay in such sound realms. – Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN
Discus mainman, Martin Archer, is constantly juggling between several different bands or projects. Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is just one of a handful of different projects that Mr. Archer has organized and this is their 6th release. The personnel for this octet has remained mostly intact, some of these musicians are also found in other Archer projects like Das Rad, Deep Tide or Frostlake. Mr. Archer also often draws from members of old prog bands (Like East of Eden) or punk/new wave bands (Comsat Angels). Two members of the Comsat Angels, Andy Peake & Terry Todd, are both part of the crew here. Starting with “Forced Orbit”, things slowly soar like space-rock, early Pink Floyd or Gong. The bassist plays a sly, hypnotic ostinato figure while the drummer uses mallets, the saxes and violin interweaving into a cosmic flow. The overall sound is like early 70’s prog, similar somewhat to mid-period Soft Machine, the saxes have that slightly sustained (through a PA) sound which I still find enchanting. There are subtle layers of electronics and/or samples pulsating throughout which give this piece a haunting, hypnotic vibe. “Monochrome” is just two minutes of minimalist/space music, similar to Terry Riley’s classic “Rainbow in Curved Air” with those distinctive saxes adding to the magic/mystery. Bands like Tangerine Dream used to use sequencers to get that pulsating/repeating sound but it can also be utilized by just repeating a pattern which I believe is what’s being done here, especially since the patterns don’t go on for too long. The pieces here are all linked together and continuous, something that Soft Machine did live. I am not sure who is playing fretless bass here but their sound is consistently hypnotic, quietly riveting throughout this entire disc. For those who care, Jan Todd’s voice is used minimally and adds a layer of sensuous spaciousness as if coming from a dreamscape. On “Dagger Boys”, drummer Steve Dinsdale is featured playing some mesmerizing space/rock percussion with eerie electronics selectively added. On “African Lady Pilot”, the band get into a great ancient (early 70’s) prog/space-rock groove with lovely, haunting wordless vocals sailing on top. Since I hear very little contemporary progressive rock, I often go back to find some of those more obscure bands that I missed or re-listen to prog bands that I used to dig but have forgotten about. This disc reminds me of the early-to-mid 1970’s when bands were still blending prog, folk-rock, modern classical and electronics into something new. Forty years later, I still enjoy those sounds. – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG NYC
One of the fascinating dichotomies about Discus albums is the relationship between cover and content. Sometimes very detailed, using vintage 60’s indie record labels (Fontana, Immediate etc), bespoke artwork and detailed liner notes. On other occasions almost a plain sleeve, hardly any subsidiary info other than the title. (I’ve taken advantage of this behavioural trait myself.) Theta Six has an inside cover image that goes to great lengths to recreate the inside sleeve of Soft Machine’s ‘defining’ album in their opus (in my view) Third. The outside sleeve of Third carries the title carefully mapped on ordinary brown parcel paper (a 1970 statement countering the predominant psychedelic sleeves of the time.) The inner sleeve was a monochrome photograph by Jurgen D. Ensthaler of members of Soft Machine sitting around in a flat; the place littered with band gear, wine bottles and unwashed plates. A picture that Jan Todd and Co has now reproduced in detail; her Upper Atmosphere Orchestra are uncannily posed exactly as per Robert Wyatt et al. Jan herself does a fair impression of Mike Ratledge! Okay, questions: The Soft’s cover was almost anti-graphics, Upper Atmosphere are determinedly pro-graphic, what’s that about? Third was the Soft Machine album that took this Canterbury hippy band into ‘jazz’ territory. The inclusion of Elton Dean and Lyn Dobson on reeds, Nick Evans on trombone, Jimmy Hastings, flute and bass clarinet changed the angle of interest. Theta Six, although containing ‘jazz’ personnel, only gives snippets of ‘J’, instead favouring a ‘continuous suite’ of Trance/Prog built on drum n’ bass rhythmic workouts. It is near very near perfection, almost Jah Wobble, and not as you would understand from the Third reference. What’s that about? I like these questions almost as much as I like the music. However original, however contemporary, all music, all artistic endeavours, comes from somewhere. Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere own their influences, graphically and aurally, whilst at the same time turning paradox on its head. Chance, found sounds, quotes, suppressed ‘head knowledge’ and pre-written composition all swirl together in a terrific 70 minute musical menagerie. Another question: How can ears ignore such a treasure trove? Don’t. – Steve Day, 2023 www.wyldepublications.com
Θ6 [Theta Six] (Discus 150CD) ist das sechste Statement vom ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE, frei improvisiert als psychedelische Harlekinade, der man genaschte „Ummagumma“-Plätzchen ebenso zutraut wie Performances von Henry Cow im Hinterkopf. Zugange waren, in alphabetischer Reihenfolge: Martin Archer an Woodwind, Organ, Software Instruments, Steve Dinsdale (ex-Radio Massacre International, Das Rad) an Drums & Keyboards, Lorin Halsall (bei „θ5“ dazugestoßen) an Bässen & Electronics, Yvonna Magda (von Pigeon, Halftone…) an Violine & Electronics, Andy Peake (ex-The Comsat Angels, Lost Garden) an Piano & Keys, Walt Shaw (Deep Tide Quartet, Martin Archer Trio, Yowl) an Drums & Percussion, Jan Todd (frostlake) an Vocals, Electronics, Ethnoharps & Idiopan sowie Terry Todd an Bassgitarre. Sie tasten sich am offenen Horizont hinein in einen Tagtraum, krautig und pink und, in Bezug auf Evan Parkers Terminologie, ‘laminar’, d. h. gleichmäßig schichtweise gleitend, elegant und developmental wie AMM (statt ‘atomistisch’ wie SME). Aber dabei nun noch organischer, als ambienter Seascape, als morphendes Dreamscaping zwischen ‘Monochrome’ und ‘Alien Spectra’. Sonne und Wind bestimmen die Frequenzen, mal als Sleep-in, in stehenden Wellen, driftend, wie aquarelliert, mal mit rhythmisch animiertem Drive, beständig kreisend. Mal fragil und folky, mit Geige und Singsang, mal elektronisch versponnen, mit schillerndem Sound, perlenden Keys, Schwebklang der Woodwinds, mal mit knurrigem Bass oder bewegt von elektronisch forcierten Flickerbeats, wobei ‘Dagger Boys’ das verbindet mit Sopranopoesie, und das monoton pochende ‘African Lady Pilot’ abhebt mit rau gefächterten Woodwinds und Schnarrbass, aber süßen Vocals, Windspielklingklang und süßer Violine. Trip ist das Wort dafür, einst wie heute, bei ‘Spinshift’ auf wolkigen und pulsenden Orgelklang gebettet zu nun mit Engelszunge angestimmten, jedoch perkussiv verschreckten Lyrics. Für ‘Marabaraba’, das afrikanische Brettspielt, fassen summender Singsang und die Violine aber wieder Zutrauen, zu zeitvergesen treibendem Bass und spitzfindiger Klimperei. ‘Edgelands’ führt dann, mit flötendem Flageolett, zurück ans brandende Meer, bevor ein kleiner Chor zuletzt bei ‘Message Parlour im Andenken an Alan Halsey (1949-2022), dem mit Archer befreundeten Poeten & Bookseller in Sheffield, The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain verdreht. Mir verdrehen sie damit den Kopf. In dem ich immer mehr überzeugt bin, dass Discus neben Hubro zu einer der Quellen geworden ist, in denen Bad Alchemy am genüsslichsten badet. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY
This is already the 6th CD of ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE, a Multimedia jazz, electronics and art ensemble from Sheffield, UK who are delivering a high class improvised but melodic adventure through the world of modern minimalistic post-prog/fusion/jazz. The ensemble is formed around their label owner Martin Archer (woodwind, organ, software instruments, voice), Steve Dinsdale (drums, keys), Terry Todd (bass), Walt Shaw (drums, percussion, voice), Yvonna Magda (violin, electronics), Lorin Halsall (acoustic and electric double basses, electronics), Andy Peake (piano, keys) and Jan Todd (vocals, voices, laptop electronics, software instruments, celtic harp, etc.). Right from the start with the 13 minutes counting Forced Orbit we are heading into an interesting adventure, because the music is calm, atmospheric, somewhat dark and balances between minimalistic modern jazz and instrumental post-progressive rock, with an ambient touch to complete the overall sound. It gets quite exciting and especially live this ensemble could easily put you into a trance with their modern use of electronic instruments in combination with the traditional instruments. Definitely a recommended album to check out for both post-prog and jazz fans out there! – Strutter’zine
8 musiciens dont le prolifique Martin Archer (woodwind, orgue, instruments informatiques et voix) et Jan Todd qui signe les paroles. 12 morceaux, courts ou longs, avec des passages bruitistes sur lesquels viennent se poser les instruments et parfois la voix. Et tout ça est mélodieux ! Un album particulièrement enthousiasment dont on espère qu’il pourra trouver son public. – Guy Stuckens, Radio Air Libre
This is the sixth Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere release in ten or so years, and the distant adventures on which they embark are always welcome. Still an eight piece, Theta Six finds the ensemble distilling their ideas into shorter pieces, although where some of them end and some of them start is not always so obvious. But the essence of spatial exploration and yearning for ways to take new sounds and expand the mind of the listener is as pure as if this were their first outing. A slow-burn intro once again allows a re-introduction of the players, space unfolding with gentle locomotion, little sax motifs around which the piece revolves and tosses its sprawling patchwork textures, Jan Todd‘s spectral voice and Yvonne Magda‘s scattered violin dropping in and out of the amorphous jam. There is a mysterious folky wordlessness to Jan’s vocalising which wanders throughout the pieces, joining in with tattered percussion on the miniature “Monochrome” or hovering over the vacuum of “Trichromat”, its seamless movement and open space consuming the carefully produced sounds. Violin scuffles against a metallic gauze, everyone picking their way gently around the pull of this dangerous concoction. “Black Paradox” allows the rhythm section to ensure some structure, its sturdy ambivalence joining with melodica and desolate piano to show another side to the collective with momentum and subtle power. The use of rhythmic structure occurs at points throughout the Theta Six, just when you think the album has totally loosed its moorings. “African Lady Pilot” is a longer example, the pulse marauding with sax and eddies of keyboard wash. There is a searching progressive feel, the sax duetting with Jan’s voice, which is the light that guides the track onward. Sepulchral keyboards constantly evolve, laying a backdrop that melts into the distance. At other points, the pieces become a kaleidoscope of barely tethered sounds, stretched and taunted, pointed toward the deepest recesses of a hidden system. A messily experimental percussive jam might emerge, with Walt Shaw hacking and rending myriad new sounds from tape spool nightmares as Martin Archer‘s sorrowful clarinet tries to make sense of it all. This constant searching for other ways to express themselves is what makes this album essential from start to finish. Jan’s voice is curiously alluring on the most song-based of the pieces here, her siren’s lament pushing at “Spinshift”‘s agile, muscular bass waiting for the percussion breakdown and then turning against it. Nobody wants to be seen to do the expected, so songs fall away, are deconstructed into atoms and then re-engineered. The long-form pieces reveal much dexterity, wrapping and repurposing, standing way outside any obvious musical styles. Instead, the ensemble finds their own place in the cosmic firmament, with sounds at times familiar but taken out of context and laid alongside others to produce an entirely unexpected effect. Their old friend Alan‘s “voice” appear on the final track, bringing a sense of loss; yet these vocal emanations seem to also be freeing, as he watches over the group’s constant reinvention around the words. It is a fitting conclusion to an extremely enjoyable and endlessly fascinating suite of songs. Theta Six is an essential addition to anyone’s collection. -Mr Olivetti, FREQ https://freq.org.uk/reviews/orchestra-of-the-upper-atmosphere-theta-six/
Formed in 2010, this is the sixth instalment of their Theta series, the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere and they continue to delight with their unique brand of spacey-dub-jazz. This is a great contribution to their library and one that has been on repeat from me. On this set, the recording sessions occurred on two days. On the first day, the tracks were led by Terry Todd’s bass lines with the ensemble improvising around the rhythm. The album opens with the near 13 minute ‘Forced Orbit’. Here, the bass feels around the echoey drums and wash of electronica before settling into a line that has more than a hint of Jah Wobble or Bill Laswell in its pulse, lyricism, and spaciness. Just like the best reggae dub records, the bass and drums keep a hypnotic rhythm while the sounds that are layered on top of this acquire their own logic. What distinguishes this recording from other artists, though, is the fluidity with which the improvisations develop and shift. Over the opening bass lines, the saxophone is layered to give a patina of effects that drift in and out of the sound. On the second day, Jan Todd, Halsall and Shaw recorded an 80 minute improvisation (which is released as ‘Germination’). Through a process of remixing that radically deconstructs and reassembles the two recording sessions, Theta Six was created. It has been an interesting experience to listen to the two recordings. But quite difficult to fully define which parts have come from the trio session and which from the ensemble. Ultimately, this is a good thing because Discus have given us two self-contained recordings that have a family link but quite independent personalities. – Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS https://jazzviews.net/oua-elements-germination-orchestra-of-the-upper-atmosphere-theta-six/
Formed in 2012 Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere are an eight-piece Sheffield collective, whose work blurs ‘n’ blends elements of prog-bound jazz-rock, jam band music, textured improv, and dreamy-to-spacy world to folk music tropes. As its title suggests θ6 (Theta Six) is the band’s sixth studio album, and it appears as CD on Uk’s Discus Label. The CD comes presented in a six-panel glossy mini gatefold. On its front cover, we have an abstract mixed media illustration, which nicely prepares you for the unpredictability of the sounds within. Inside we get a picture of five of the line up in a room- some laying on a bed, others look thoughtful on chairs, with live pictures of the three remaining members behind the other five. It’s a rather confronting 1970s-like album inlay picture, with some interesting details/ items in it. The line-up for this album is as follows. Martin Archer – woodwind, organ, software instruments, voice. Steve Dinsdale – drums, keyboards. Lorin Halsall – acoustic and electric double basses, electronics. Yvonna Magda – violin, electronics. Andy Peake – piano, keyboards. Walt Shaw – drums, percussion, voice. Jan Todd – vocals, voices, laptop electronics, software instruments and samples, found sounds, Celtic harp, cross-strung harp, jouhikko, alto tagelharpa, and idiopan.Terry Todd – bass guitar. The album features twelve tracks in all- with runtimes between one and nearly thirteen minutes. And while there are separations/ different themes from track to track, I’d say due to the often floating, shifting, and drifting feel of the material the album plays best as one long experience. So as a result it is a little difficult to firmly tie down single stand-out tracks- as each time you play through the whole thing, you pick out different points of interest/ wonder….but I’m going to try & tie down a few. So, we open with “Forced Orbit”- this is a nearly thirteen-minute epic track- which moves from a blend of sea crashing field recordings, light string sail ‘n’ sear, a finding its place bassline, and building percussion. Onto evenly bounding bass work & lightly swinging jazz-rock motif, which is trailed with wavering female space whispers. Though to twinkling & lightly texturing additions, which meet jazz piano runs, tone crash ‘n’ hovers, and gliding organ weaves. We have the upfront blunt ‘n bounding bass meets percussion hiss ‘n’ snap of “Black Paradox” which adds in woozy tone drifts, ornate but tense piano key runs ‘n’ darts, and ethnic tone fumbles. We have the warbling ‘n’ glowing space whispers, steady organ jive, darting horn honks, and lucid bass pulse of “Spinshift”. With the album playing out in a wonderful hazed & mysterious fashion with “Message Parlour-For Alan” which is a freefall of mix male voices talking in different languages, warbling to wavering female vocalising, string & key drone, and textural simmer/ crash/ warp. As an album θ6 manages to effortlessly merge a feeling of true musical & sound freedom, with a keen sense of both prepose & vision. You can hear throughout that the eight pieces are completely in tune with each other- but there is no ego here, it’s all about building the most involving, often sonically surprising journey. To buy this direct drop by here. – www.musiquemachine.com
The musical (and not only) creative explosion that took place in the second half of the sixties of the last century continues its underground flowering up to the present day. Indeed, in some ways, it can certainly be said that that open, free and unregulated approach within predefined styles seems to have returned to currency for a whole series of musicians eager to experiment with intertwining different languages and new modes of expression. It is certainly not retromania or slavish imitation to go back to certain atmospheres or work around that aesthetic that had opened the doors of the mind and produced a series of top-level music: such is the freshness, the intuitions, the fertility of that musical approach to be still today a precious source of inspiration. That particular land resulting from the encounter between rock more open to improvisation typical of early Pink Floyd, Soft Machine or Daevid Allen’s Gong as well as the more visionary West Coast, a certain jazz coming out of the notes of Sun Ra, John Coltrane , of the electric Miles Davis, the experimentation of the AMMs and the minimalism of Terry Riley, the experience of the so-called krautrock, remains inextricably a heritage rich in implications. And it is precisely in this area that the Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere has been working and producing wonderful music for over ten years now. Starting out as a duo formed by Martin Archer, saxophones, keyboards, synths, and Chris Bywater, synths and electronics, the group then expanded over the years to include other musicians who, from the third album onwards, joined Archer alone, having Bywater ceased cooperation. The propulsive mind of the Orchestra is certainly the founder of the Discus Music record label, that Martin Archer from Sheffield who between saxophones and electronics continues to disseminate high quality music, both with his own projects and by publishing records of other groups and soloists similar to him in musical terms. In this sixth chapter, obviously released on his own label, he is joined by a veteran of the English electronic scene (member of the Radio Massacre International trio) such as Steve Dindsale, here also as drummer, from the electric bass and double bass as well as electronics by Lorin Halsall (already a member of the English psychedelic group The Telescopes), by Yvonna Magda on violin and electronics, Walt Shaw on drums and percussion, Andy Peake (in the eighties in the historic formation of Comsat Angels), piano and keyboards, Jan Todd on vocals, electronics and a host of other sounds and instruments, and Terry Todd on electric bass. This large ensemble is the creator of Theta Six (the other albums are numbered from one to five, in true Soft Machine style!) for which the free form music label seems quite appropriate. The term has historically been used often to delimit and circumscribe that type of psychedelia with dilated forms, with long improvisations and spatial effects, a music from altered states of consciousness that reached its peak precisely in the second half of the Sixties. A brief but essential dissertation should be made regarding the improvisational approaches that have emerged over the previous decades. If the improvisational jazz form appears clear, which makes use of that idiom with all its history and evolutions, the distinction between free improvisation and free form improvisation appears more uncertain. For the former we can refer to that territory halfway between avant-garde and free jazz, while the latter has often been identified precisely with a part of the psychedelic scene, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Grateful Dead among others but also a series of German groups, and therefore of clearer rock derivation, even in the presence of jazz and contemporary elements. The difference is above all in developing the improvisation often around a tonal centre, most of the time maintained from the bass, and which certainly goes beyond and borders on the typical atonality of free improvisation, but which in any case maintains the aforementioned tonal center as a point of reference. Beyond the speciousness regarding the definitions of improvisational approaches, this dissertation is useful for us to photograph the group’s music in a general way and its undeniable charm. A compositional method that is based on improvised suites to which thematic riffs, melodic solos and overdubs are added, creating consonant landscapes rippled by sounds and effects that build an enveloping and dreamy music, soft but with incisive rhythmic impulses. Beyond the captiousness regarding the definitions of improvisational approaches, this dissertation is useful for us to photograph the group’s music in a general way and its undeniable charm. A compositional method that is based on improvised suites to which thematic riffs, melodic solos and overdubs are added, creating consonant landscapes rippled by sounds and effects that build an enveloping and dreamy music, soft but with incisive rhythmic impulses. Beyond the captiousness regarding the definitions of improvisational approaches, this dissertation is useful for us to photograph the group’s music in a general way and its undeniable charm. A compositional method that is based on improvised suites to which thematic riffs, melodic solos and overdubs are added, creating consonant landscapes rippled by sounds and effects that build an enveloping and dreamy music, soft but with incisive rhythmic impulses. Forced Orbit , the long piece that opens the disc, is a sort of manifesto of the group: a mysterious beginning that acts as a prelude to an effective and penetrating horn riff coming directly from the Third by Soft Machine, cadenced rhythm and the violin that creeps inside, flashes of electronics and keyboards in a continuous going in and out of the tonality, until arriving in a very krautrock lunar landscape. The album by the historic Canterbury formation, Third , definitely appears to be something more than a reference among many others, as the inside cover photo tells us, whose artwork is due to Walt Shaw: a sensational homage to the photography that was admired at the interior of the Canterbury band’s ellepì: a small room with the musicians arranged at the sides and in the center of the frame, some instruments placed here and there, posters on the walls, a small table in the center with assorted beverages. It is the iconic image of the band and the members of the Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere have been immortalized in the same poses in a room that seems to be the same with a few variations. Similar to the opening piece is Fata Morgana, which is also very close to the atmospheres of Third , while Monochrome is cloaked in diffused electronics and a voice that recalls the space whispers of Gilly Smith of Gong. Trichromat shows a freer scenario, full of delays, sounds, effects, single drum hits, whispered voice and violin that give that sense of space, of deep breath: a song close to the sounds of Phaedra’s Neu or Tangerine Dream. The succession of Alien Spectra , Dagger Boys and African Lady Pilot is probably the best moment of the disc, moreover entirely of high quality. It begins with a suggestive voice surrounded by spatial effects that flows into a series of messy noises, percussions, cymbals and a dark, nocturnal clarinet, which outlines short melodic lines to then leave room for a reverberated sax: from this point on, the long African Lady Pilot suite, with a constant rhythm and electronic loops, a charming Soft Machine riff and the ghost of Elton Dean creeping between the vocal lines, while in the second part it is the violin that lights up the atmosphere surrounded by keyboards and electronics, in a context with vague hints of jazz rock. If Black Paradox develops on a bass ostinato referring to the Necks aesthetic, Spinshift is a real song, with a usual vocal melody wrapped up by effects and supported by short horn riffs, to then disintegrate into disordered sounds and noises on a space carpet. Marabarabais another long psychedelic suite, with piano and violin interacting on the constant pace of the rhythm, and in the end the voice that reiterates a melodic line, sometimes dubbed by the clarinet, until it dissolves. The ending of the album, with Edgelands and Message Parlor – for Alan , is characterized by more experimental elements, or at least by dissonant sonorities, restless, dark sounds, between Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and the AMMs of Keith Rowe, Eddie Prevost and Cornelius Cardew. Theta Sixends his journey here, after more than an hour of music; a real psychedelic journey full of sounds, effects, riffs and melodies, improvisations and spatial scenarios, with an incessant, persistent succession of songs, linked to each other without solution of continuity. If the past aesthetic references have already been partly exposed, the music of the Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere can be connected to various current experiences, which work on a similar, contiguous terrain: Necks, Bitchin Bajas, the Natural Information Society of Joshua Abrams, the latest releases of the Heliocentrics (in particular Infinity Of Now and Telemetric Sounds), or even that interesting and captivating London Odense Ensemble, fruit of the collaboration between the English Tamar Osborne and Al MacSween and the Danes Jonas Munk, Jakob Skott and Martin Rude, creators of little-known but highly fascinating recording works. It is a music that thrives on improvisation, but an improvisation devoted and consecrated to the elaboration of ethereal, ancestral soundscapes, a constant search for the unconscious element of the human being, for a certain sense of sacredness and transcendence, as if reconnect with the essence of sound, with its magical and supernatural value. The intelligent use of experimentation and minimalism, reiteration, psychedelia and space rock, electronics and jazz breath, is the perfect formula for building this universe. – Albert Poppola, QUADERNI D’ALTRI TEMPI https://www.quadernidaltritempi.eu/orchestra-of-the-upper-atmosphere-theta-six-discus/
According to the press release this represents an amalgamation of bass driven and free-improvised sessions with arranged horns and voice additions, which is a pretty accurate description. Time signatures interlink with freer sections and electronic loops, incorporating strands of influences, and at times it’s almost a paean to the more interesting examples of experimentation in jazz-rock of the late 60s. The opener, Forced Orbit, quickly gets into these areas, with a straightforward drum/bass rhythm and closely harmonic horn arrangements, but soon creeping electronica is injected – small noises alternate between sonar echo soundings and sonic clutter; a blend of instruments and sound like a radio dial trying to find available stations from random signals coming through. The jazz-rock approach emerges elsewhere, accompanied by a short burst of acoustic piano on Black Paradox, and heavily so on Dagger Boys; mechanics gather on the assembly line, a barrage of sound and detonations, a platform for Martin Archer’s woodwinds. Horns also feature on Fata Morgana, in tight unison whilst the backdrop enters a minimalist loop. Similarly we’re in Terry Riley territory on African Lady Pilot, again the horns forthright after the clarion call. Although Trichromat has a collage of loosely assembled percussive sounds, generally it veers away from total freedom and retains an undulating harmonic core, creating a sense of drama, at times mysteriously disconcerting; a hidden darkness. Wordless vocals are spread throughout, and the ethereal mood on Alien Spectra contrasts with the more recognisably song-form style of Spinshift, which segues into the riff-based harmonies and rock beat of Marabaraba, with a distinct contribution from Yvonne Magda’s violin: strident bowing, overtones and clipped techniques. The words of the late poet Alan Halsey are featured on the final track but unfortunately these are largely indecipherable. The combination of styles make this an interesting album, fearlessly experimental but with reassuringly rhythmic episodes. – Matthew Wright, JAZZ JOURNAL https://jazzjournal.co.uk/2023/06/06/orchestra-of-the-upper-atmosphere-theta-six/
It’s interesting that I’ve just recently reviewed a new release by The Necks, in that on first listen to this new one from Sheffield’s Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere, certain parts kind of reminded me of The Necks. Yet, re-listening now, whilst I do get that feel occasionally, it’s only as fragments of what is woven into the twelve-part opus that fills this disc. I also hear vague touches of Lard Free, a hint of Urban Sax here and there, and all sorts of other things, much of which is totally their own invention. I long suspected that Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere were capable of doing something I really like, well they’ve certainly got the talent, and their first couple of releases indeed showed great promise. I seem to have lost touch with their output since then, so this sixth release would seem to stem from a new direction they’ve been heading in. Curiously the inside spread photo has five members of the band mimicking the pose of Soft Machine as original seen within the gatefold of their THIRD, a casual bedsit scene. Why the Soft Machine dedication? I don’t know. I certainly don’t hear any obvious influence in the music here. There are moments that remind me of some Keith Tippett projects, and the woodwind playing has an air of Karl Jenkins about it (yet he didn’t join Soft Machine until later), whilst the music ranges from different types of cosmic fusion through to avant-garde percussion and electronics, now and again shifting toward The Necks territory, and then moving in a very surprising direction with Spinshift and its slinky groove with spacey female vocals, ultimately ending up way beyond the upper atmosphere! As what feels like an album long segue (actually you can break it apart as three suites, which is how the download is also presented in order to hear it un-gapped), it’s quite immaculately crafted and flows like a charm, moving from one phase to another almost imperceptibly. Nice one. I guess this means I need to check-out albums 3 to 5! – Alan Freeman AUDION
Martin Archer’s label of love, DISCUS MUSIC, promotes “new creative music by living, working musicians”. Described as “an ever morphing tapestry from the left field progressive sound universe evolving from a session of studio bass driven rhythms (Terry Todd), and free improvisation” and intended as a single continuous suite (or in three parts) with recurring motifs across a music arc (‘Forced Orbit’, ‘African Lady Pilot’, ‘Spinshift/Marabarba’) provide an album’s worth of such music. This is the sixth OUA and I have enjoyed all of them, but this one will strike a chord with all discerning listeners whose tastes extend to progressive jazz rock, Zeuhl, in “textural free improvisation” and “Sun Ra style jams. A special word for the drumming on ‘African Lady Pilot’ and Jan Todd’s vocalisations and percussive effects; also to Martin Archer for his timely interventions on woodwind and organ, allowing the other musicians plenty of space. – Phil Jackson, https://www.dimensions-in-sound-and-space.com/post/orchestra-of-the-upper-atmosphere-theta-six-2023
The Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, composer and Discus label owner Martin Archer. Theta Six is their sixth and most recent release. For the uninitiated (as I was until very recently), the Orchestra leans toward the kosmische Musik side of prog, maybe along the lines of Tangerine Dream ambience but with a bigger band, more acoustic instrumentation, more rock, and a strange astro-orientalist bent. The result is an otherworldly blend of the liquid, the sparkling and the tenebrous. And, it flows. Theta Six has some jarring and scattered stretches, which inevitably melt into more lyrical and celestial territory. “African Lady Pilot” is a standout in this stylistic corner. It has a heavy touch of acid jazz and a lot of Middle Eastern-space/futurism. Some pieces, such as the closer “Massage Parlour-For Alan”, lean more heavily into the effects, a fluttering, crossed inter-dimensional radio transmission. “Spingshift” and “Marabara”, the 9th and 10th tracks, are united by an infectious low-end groove, a floating melody and haunting, monochrome vocals that draw elements from new wave pop and drum and bass/low-fi glitchy lounge back-beats. Much of Theta Six and especially this section would fit seamlessly into the soundtrack of some uber-hipster coffee shop. But a closer listen would dispel any assumption that this is meant for the background. So much is going on in the undercurrents. Sounds and tunes peak in and out. The playing is refined and restrained, yet surprisingly full, even in its sparse moments. I was not sure what to make of this album at first listen. The music is complex and variegated, but the execution and production are so slick. If one’s attention wanders, it might miss how eerie and rich sections of this Theta Six are, or how well-crafted this album really is. Even so, a superficial listen will hear a fine album. If the listener concentrates, however, they will hear the vision, the nuances and the myriad stylistic inputs so effectively harnessed in this proggy piece of concept art. Just listen to those early reeds that lend melody and strange time-bending, cosmic mood to the first track, “Forced Orbit”. The force and vision are certainly strong with this one. – Nick Ostrum, SQUID’S EAR https://www.squidco.com/cgi-bin/news/newsView.cgi?newsID=2691
New things have been cooking, baking and, finally, being showcased within the British avant-garde scene, as evidenced by the existence of the latest album by the ensemble ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE. This album is called “Theta Six” and was released on March 24 of the recently deceased year 2023 by the indefatigable label Discus Music, one of the most proactive in the dissemination of the most experimental aspects of the progressive, jazz and electronic scenes in recent years. Yes, this review is a bit late, but it’s totally genuine. This ensemble led by Martin Archer [winds, organ, software instruments and vocals] is completed by Steve Dinsdale [drums and keyboards], Lorin Halsall [acoustic and electric double basses, and synthesizer], Yvonna Magda [violin and synthesizer], Andy Peake [piano and keyboards], Walt Shaw [drums, percussion and vocals], Jan Todd [vocals, laptop effects, software instruments, found sounds, Celtic harp, cross-string harp, alto tagelharp, and idiopan] and Terry Todd [bass]. Jan Todd is also part of the FJALL project with Archer. The ambitious experimental proposal of the ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE manages to feel comfortable in its juggling of combining sound schemes inherited from the avant-prog of RIO and Zeuhl aspects, jazz-prog, the SUN RA paradigm, krautrock and free-form psychedelia with postmodern projections. Almost all of the texts are by Jan Todd, except for one track that contains lyrics by Alan Halsey, a British poet who died in October 2022. The material contained in “Theta Six” was recorded in various sessions between May 2022 and March 2023 by Robin Downe, Martin Archer and Jan Todd at Yellow Arch Studios, Discus Music and FrogPond, respectively. Further mastering work was done by Dean Honer at Bowling Green Studio. Well, let’s now look at the details of the repertoire contained here. The album’s repertoire consists of three self-titled suites, which are divided into several sections. ‘Theta Six – Part 1’, which lasts about 28 3/4 minutes, contains the sections ‘Forced Orbit’, ‘Monochrome’, ‘Fata Morgana’, ‘Trichromat’ and ‘Black Paradox’. The first of these sections lasts just under 13 minutes and is responsible for establishing an enveloping and majestic atmosphere through a series of maniacal approaches between the instruments that, finally, lands in a solemn and parsimoniously ceremonious groove. Thus, the instrumentalists explore the potential for exuberance of their respective items with a constrained focus within a group framework whose internal dialogues are fluidly put together under a cloak of stately mystery; Of course, at some point, the group manages to create a dense climax that reaches its climax shortly before the nine-minute border. ‘Monochrome’ is a free-form miniature that boasts an aura that is certainly twilight and, at the same time, gentle. ‘Fata Morgana’ emerges to establish modernist textures focused on exploring what is usually called nu-jazz through a krautrock filter that reminds us of the TANGERINE DREAM of the 1975-77 phase. The repetitive agitations have something dreamy about them, while the percussive and ornaments add a refreshing anarchist looseness to the affair. In the third section, the ensemble engages in ethereal rattles based on free jazz, adopting a frontally deconstructivist positioning. The use of cosmic resources helps a lot to reinforce the prevailing dreamy mood. For the final section, the group puts together a recognizable jazz-progressive scheme, which sounds like a sober hybrid of the exquisite luminosity of Canterbury in the style of the SOFT MACHINE of the 1974-76 phase and a softened version of the gloomy atmospheres of a ZÉRO UNIVERS. The triangulation of bass, drums, and synthesizer allows the entire ensemble to return safely, especially when it comes to the captivating flourishes of the piano. What a great closing to the first suite! The ‘Theta Six – Part 2’ suite contains the sections ‘Alien Spectra’, ‘Dagger Boys’, ‘African Lady Pilot’ and ‘Spinshift’; In total, these take up a space of just under 27 1/4 minutes. ‘Alien Spectra’ begins as a return to the most deconstructive within a climate of arcane expectation for what awaits us for the next sections. The female voice is a gentle spell whose crystalline cadence is an effective counterpoint to the subtle sense of menace that emerges from the ongoing instrumental snippets, and it is she herself who directs the dreamlike glow with which the epilogue passage is assembled. In this way, ‘Dagger Boys’ can emerge as an exercise in surrealist ravings from which deconstructive logic is handled with a new impetus, while the random percussive accentuations and their respective cybernetically manipulated expansions set the liquid sonic pattern. It is the sober phrasing of the saxophone that exhibits the last subterfuges of rationality while the storm of uncertainty reigns in the immediate environment. ‘African Lady Pilot’ is the longest section with its space of 11 3/4 minutes and its mission is, as seems natural, to host the greatest instances of exploratory lavishness in the suite. It is a rather vitalistic moment that is comfortably inserted into the avant-jazz discourse while allowing itself to be enveloped by precious melodic resources of jazz-progressive tenor. Here bridges are built between the WEATHER REPORT of 1973-75 and the SOFT MACHINE of 1973-75, until the final passage veers little by little towards the regugio of a floating atmosphere that approaches a kind of minimalist psychedelia. It’s here that drums and electric piano tackle a more sophisticated process for the persistent groove. The last section of the suite focuses on a jazz-fusion exercise with Caribbean cadences, settling a middle ground between the SUN RA of 1978 and the HERBIE HANCOCK of 1973-74. Possibly we have here the most lyrical moment of the entire album, at least, until the arrival of a minimalist coda with a cosmic base, which opens the way for the soon arrival of the next suite. The ‘Marabaraba’, ‘Edgelands’ and ‘Message Parlour – For Alan’ sections are included in the final suite, ‘Theta Six – Part 3’; This one lasts just over 19 1/4 minutes. Taking advantage of its bombastic length of 10 3/4 minutes, ‘Marabaraba’ travels through several places, the first of them being a stretch of the striking groove that marked ‘Spinshift’ with the aim of expanding the resources of musical exuberance. The bass’s interventions are particularly fabulous, as are those of the saxophone and violin; The ornaments of the piano fill spaces with character and subtlety at the same time. The way in which this fusionesque excursion acquires such a peculiar muscle and density reminds us, in some ways, of the paradigm of the legendary EMBRYO. With the link of noises of a tide, ‘Edgelands’ emerges with an impressively abstract approach that revels in the futuristic vehemence emanating from the cybernetic resources used for the occasion. Anyway. ‘Message Parlour – For Alan’ picks up this baton and adds a ceremonious nuance to it through various soliloquies. They recite poems by the aforementioned Alan Halsey. “Theta Six” is, as a final balance, a work full of very inspired sonic adventures that further strengthens the ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE as an entity worthy of thousands of praises for keeping alive the flame of experimentation in the areas of rock and jazz simultaneously. This sixth season of his career leaves us with a great memory of the year 2023 that left us recently. Totally recommended!! – César Inca, AUTOPOIETICIAN https://autopoietican.blogspot.com/2024/01/la-sexta-estacion-de-la-orchestra-of.html?fbclid=IwAR3mwfBI4TLP2XQTAUJ1Ewk2HcfJgMnY7Hk5bGMmucWLF_Nxr3JrJIXXlag
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