On June 24, 2003 Acoustic Alchemy releases Radio Contact, their new album for Higher Octave Music. Fresh from two successful world tours, a Grammy nomination (their third), a Gibson Guitar Award, a Jazz Trax “Album of the Year” Award (all for 2001’s AArt CD) and a 2003 National Smooth Jazz Awards nomination in the “Group/Duo of the Year” category, the British jazz group has delivered an impressive, sophisticated work. Classic melodic guitar lines built on smoldering grooves make for a CD that both stands with and apart from the best of smooth jazz – a genre Acoustic Alchemy helped launch.
In fact, it was 1987’s Red Dust and Spanish Lace that established Acoustic Alchemy as a force in contemporary instrumental music. Since then, AA has grown its legacy via an adventurous mix of Latin, jazz, pop and, more recently, soul textures, along with their core commitment to the guitars of Greg Carmichael and Miles Gilderdale. Their third Higher Octave Music release, Radio Contact, points the band forward with an exciting studio sound, fresh modern rhythms and a back to basics approach which keeps the Carmichael-Gilderdale synergy front and center.
Recorded at Hansa Haus Studios in Bonn, Germany with longtime engineer Klaus Genuit, home to much of AA’s best work. The collection features four tracks produced by consummate smooth jazz guitarist and producer Chuck Loeb, including the first single “No Messin,” and “Milo,” “Shelter Island Drive” and “Urban Cowboy.” Radio contact also has AA’s first ever vocal track, the passionate ballad “Little Laughter” sung by Jo Harrop, and magnificent solos by keyboardists Jaimie Norton , Rainer Bruninghaus and Tony White. The music is anchored by AA’s long-time international rhythm section of bassist Frank Felix and drummer Greg Grainger, with guest percussionist Mario Argandõna.
Radio Contact’s cover features a giant transmitter dish, like those used to beam radio waves to the distant corners of the universe. Over the course of their impressive career, the British group has often referenced themes of travel and exploration, so this won’t come as a surprise to fans who enjoy making the journey. In the past, the band has used song titles to mark events and special memories, such as “Catalina Kiss”, “Jamaica Heartbeat,” and “Caravan of Dreams.” On Radio Contact, “Shelter Island Drive,” for example, is named after the street leading to Humphrey’s, a San Diego concert spot AA has enjoyed playing over the years. “Milo” is named for Miles’ first child, born earlier this year.
Other key tracks include a playful Latin-spiced journey down a dusty road called “El Camino del Corazon”; the mystical, dream-inspiring ballad “Tinder Box” (co-written with keyboardist Jamie Norton); the cool African, jazz and gospel groovin’ of “What Comes Around”; the tender chill piece “Coffee With Manni” (written for the studio manager); and the lush, intimate jazz quartet piece “Turn the Stars On.”
“Our AArt album had a lot of horn textures and here we have almost none, but that’s less by design than just being open to where the tunes take us as we’re writing,” he adds. “A greater emphasis on our guitars and a simpler production just made sense with the songs we wrote here. Working with Chuck Loeb was also an incredible experience. I’d known him for a long time and am a huge fan of his writing, guitar playing and producing for other artists. He was very professional, organized and efficient and it was great to have another pair of ears guiding the arrangement and recording process on those songs. It’s hard to define it in words, but he added a truly American angle and vibe to them.”
Acoustic Alchemy has a rich legacy based on the extraordinary airplay, sales and critical reception given the many early Webb-Carmichael led recordings followed by those helmed later by Carmichael and Gilderdale. Carmichael with each successive recording is carrying on a legacy begun by Webb and a guitarist named Simon James in the early 80s. The road to instrumental stardom began when Webb and Carmichael provided the one-off-in-flight entertainment for a Virgin Airlines England to America flight, in search of an elusive recording contract; they often liked to say they “played their way to America”. Signed to the MCA Master Series label by Tony Brown, their popularity took off in conjunction with the New Adult Contemporary radio format.
Their early MCA albums-starting with Red Dust and Spanish Lace and continuing with 1988’s Natural Elements and 1989’s Blue Chip were all later re released on GRP. Last year, Verve released a successful greatest hits collection entitled The Very Best of Acoustic Alchemy, and Image Entertainment has just released Sounds of St. Lucia, a new CD/DVD live concert set based on a performance recorded for BET Television.
“The band has been through a lot of changes over the years, but the concept of two acoustic guitars has always been the emotional centerpiece which draws people close,” says Carmichael. “I’m happy these days because I love the people in the band and it’s great touring with them and playing live onstage. Miles is very quiet offstage, but get him up there and you never know what kind of crazy things he’s going to do and say! It’s really so much fun, and we have a lot of loyal fans who have enjoyed taking the journey with us. The positive spirit behind our music and album titles comes from the wonderful relationship we have with them.”