A quick joy permeates an album of enriching depth...

Andrew PM Hunt was living in a 20-bedroom former care home of musicians, artists and other creative types back when his sophisti-pop five-piece Outfit were starting to wind down in the middle of the last decade. That part of the Liverpool-based multi-instrumentalist and composer’s musical path seems like it belongs to another life now, but that desire to surround himself with others endures. Hunt now lives in another large communal residence on Merseyside and his fourth album under the Dialect moniker, Under~Between brims with collaborative energy not just from those explicitly listed in the credits but the also the general hum of his home environment.

Admittedly ‘musician makes music with others’ isn’t particularly noteworthy in itself; but then Hunt has spent the last couple of years quietly taking the seemingly unremarkable and elevating it to something more rarefied. Perhaps the most concrete example of this is in 'Raft Of Trash', the project he started with designer Thom Isom and producer JC Leisure, which extracted the sound design of the computer game SIM City 3000 to shape exploratory new soundscapes that interlinked with spoken word, live instrumentation and other field recordings. There’s also Land Trance, his duo with Ex-Easter Island Head’s Benjamin Duvall which, on the soon-to-be reissued First Séance utilises obsolete playback technology like dictaphones and tape machines to create yearning drones, manipulated clusters of vocal melody and disrupted meditations.

Under~Between’s themes aren’t tied to such defined objects, but in its contemplative celebration of the shared creative process you could argue that it too elevates something ordinary – or at least, something that before the pandemic we took for granted. With the UK only just now beginning to come out of its soul-sapping period of enforced isolation, the records released during it that have truly broken through the lockdown fug are those that have emphasised human connection. Hunt does too, both with a deft handling of his own natural artistic wanderlust and in his judgement when it comes to using the contributions of his varied cast of players. He edits and manipulates where necessary, for instance taking drummer David Kelly’s fluttering percussive brush strokes and sanding them down so that they glint under Invert Yr Path’s languid tonal frequencies and synthetic trickles.

For the most, though, he’s happy to set aside ego and instead let his collaborators explore their own voice within the invitingly porous construct that he’s created. So it is that reed player Nick Branton is allowed to bristle and crackle through 'Feathers Dance', Hunt content to sit back having hollowed out the space for him. Perhaps most breathtakingly of all is Hannah Bitowski’s whispered introduction to the entire album, starting “under the galaxy” before bringing the listener into the core of the earth itself amidst bubbling sounds and string interruptions that rebound off each uttered phrase.

Elsewhere, members of the Immix Ensemble make sure their presence throughout the album is elegantly felt. Most of these tracks started with the Daniel Thorne-lead compositional group pre-pandemic, with Hunt commissioned to write some chambers pieces for them. In-part thanks to their inclusion here, the heart of the record still lies with the collective, be that on 'Yamaha Birds 1' where violinist Catherine Landen swoops and circles like a bird in the breeze; or 'Ringing The Web' – where Thorne’s alto sax struggles and itches against the cloying hiss of the production and emergent drones.

Hunt himself is a busy presence throughout of course, if not always front and centre. When he does allow himself to come forward, though, it’s through the piano that he’s at his most striking and melodic. The gently lolloping notes that break through on the title track pull apart its opening to provide a platform from which the track can dive into glorious expanse. On 'Flame Not Stone', meanwhile, again it emerges with subtle euphoria, climbing out of the undergrowth of bird whistle- like sounds, samples field recordings and his own breathy vocals.

Ultimately 'Under~Between' is the work of an artist serious about his music without being a Serious Musician. Even at its most stripped away or deconstructed, there’s a knowing playfulness to what’s going on and always a hint at a road back; nothing is po-faced and there’s humour in the way a string section will break up the peace, as though they’re bursting into a quiet room; at times there’s almost a sense of anti-grandeur in the way a clarinet or saxophone will splutter into life. It’s those nods to the cast behind the music that give the album such warmth, a reminder of the joy of togetherness in this most isolated of times.

9/10

Words: Simon Jay Catling

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