120_Alarm comprises Steve Thompson (Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Nigel Kennedy, Robert Smith, Lisa Stansfield) on Electronics, Laser Harp and Keyboard, Tamar Osborn (Akram Khan, Collocutor, Kelis, Van Morrison, Billy Ocean) on saxophone and flute, Emma Bassett (Adele, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Tim Minchin) on trombone, Alistair ‘Titch’ Walker (Divine Comedy, Doolally Tap) on trumpet, Ollie Weston (Amy Winehouse, Tim Minchin) on bass and Ben Handysides ( Hackney Colliery Band, Charlotte Keeffe) on drums.
They find themselves in the unusual and enviable position of having their music uploaded into a rocket destined for the moon. As one who reviewed that recording (‘Hello_World’, in 2020) I felt a shiver of delight as Steve Thomson from Alarm 1201 explained, “You may remember the last album was inspired by science and technology. Well, bizarrely, it has been loaded onto a spaceship, and is destined for the Moon! I kid you not!” The album was loaded onto the payload of NASA’s spacecraft, Peregrine Lander, and is set to launch in late 2023, marking the first album on the Moon. So shortly after you read this review, Alarm 1201’s music could be being played on the moon. On this, the band’s second album, all the music was written by Steve Thompson who leads the band and explores his passion for experimenting blending science and technology with a mix of jazz, electronica, classical, and rock music. It works beautifully because Thomson is a gifted musician when it comes to sound layering – as you can hear on the albums. 1201_Alarm was named after an incident that occurred on the Apollo 11 mission, so that might give you the level of Thomson’s fascination with science, space, and sound.
The 1201_Alarm project started in 2016, when founding member Thompson began interviewing renowned scientists and experts, including the late James Randi, Dr Aleks Krotoski, Dr Helen Cerski, and Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Their first album offered themes based on each person interviewed. This album continues the inspiration from figures who have had a huge impact on science. One track features UK astronaut, Helen Sharman. Thomson comments, “I was absolutely thrilled when Helen agreed to come to our studio in London and record. The track is very different from the others on the album – a brief respite from the loud, upbeat jazz. Helen’s playing is calm and tranquil, how I imagined she felt in the MIR space station, gazing down on the Earth.”
The album is a progression from ‘Hello_World’. From the ethereal ‘Summer Bird’ with radio audio of a space mission to the strange chill that creeps over ‘Ozone 3’, the album reveals many textures. On ‘Summer Bird’ the changing rhythm patterns, from gentle, laid back to thrumming, insistent, and urgent beats, enhance the sense of flight, the beautiful brass over flute section emphasizing a sense of emptiness beneath.
‘1202’ is introduced by a strong percussive line, under which the bass enters, backed by electro-bop and a fantastically textured section of musical layering, using both conventional and electronic sounds. ‘Gruitheisen Domes’ is ethereal and features a theme, around which the rest of the musicians work. The Gruitheisen Domes are volcanic lunar features and underpinning the music is a sense of space, the power of what is beyond, and the call of the void. In the middle section, waves break under rhythmic beats creating that sense of two different worlds colliding.
‘Kelly Watch The Stars’ features a central theme picked out, taken up, developed, and exchanged between the musicians, with the sax emerging to deliver a mesmeric solo deep diving from high to low registers with relish.
‘Ozone 3’ is light, gentle, and aptly named, as the music takes the listener high into the atmosphere, visualizing the clouds dispersing and the earth revealed beneath its protective blanket of ozone. The track features pianist and astronaut Helen Sharman CMG, OBE – the UK’s first Astronaut in space. The title of the track comes from Sharman’s call sign during her week-long mission to the MIR space station in 1991. As well as Sharman on piano, who reveals herself to be an exceptional musician, the track features the Cape Town Philharmonic and a glorious flugelhorn solo from Titch Walker. The track swells and falls, the strings of the orchestra sighing glorious melodies across the arrangements. The repeated 8-note motif signals stability, while the changes in rhythms seem to indicate things are never what they seem. A beautiful and profoundly thought-provoking piece.
‘Chiller’ is a beautiful bash of a number with chopped rhythms and glorious brass in harmony across the top. Another wonderful sax solo is featured and there are some deliciously glorious blasts from the trumpet.
‘Moonwalk’ is a bouncy, freely played number with some wonderful interplay between woodwind and brass, across a constant rhythm, creating a playful and uplifting sound while ‘Set The Controls’ features some majestic choral singing, a rocky rhythm, and forceful bass work before it settles into a well-worked harmonic number, featuring a blast-off sequence for Apollo 11. The layers of sound provided by the percussion in particular increase until there is such a sense of fire and energy, that the listener cannot but feel a sense of impending explosion.
The album is a wonderful intertwining of genres, soundscapes, and creative exploration of ideas, all created with a clear directional musicality and wonderfully textured harmonies.
The band will launch the album with a live performance at the Temple of Art and Music in Elephant and Castle on 14th November, for an evening of live music from both albums.
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All inquiries, high res images, and further information: Georgina Carter, Chloé Nelkin Consulting E: firstname.lastname@example.org, T: 020 3627 2960 W: www.chloenelkinconsulting.com