Style: Space Rock
Release Date: 30 May 2022
Nik Turner: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia
Steve Hillman: Bandcamp | Facebook
The Trance Dimensionals: Facebook
It would be fair describe the prolific space rock saxophonist and flautist Nik Turner as an acquired taste and pretty much everything I said about his previous album, The Final Frontier, holds on this one, credited to Nik Turner & The Trance Dimensionals. This is a more personal version of the style you might know from Hawkwind, the legendary British space rockers with whom he performed for a decade or so during their most successful period, albeit in two stints. He certainly hasn't moved too far adrift from their sound, referencing their Space Ritual album by name in Destination Void and The Enchantress, the first two tracks here.
When Turner sticks to making music, he sounds great. I love his instrumental work, because it's as trippy and weird as anything Hawkwind put their name to but more exploratory. Turner has stated that he's more interested in the feel of songs than any particular structure or components within them and that makes sense. Instrumentals like Sphinx Dancer are joyous journeys that I wouldn't mind continuing for hours. I wonder if this one was extracted from a longer jam, as it fades in and kind of fades out after its six minutes in the spotlight. It could have been as endless as the sands it evokes and which are so vividly depicted in the cover art.
However, when Turner takes the mike, the quality drops because he sounds less like a vocalist and more like an old man reading poetry, which I'm pretty sure he is on songs like Sekhmet. On others, I think the point is more to narrate an introduction, like on Destination Void, which also opens the album, and Thunder Rider Invocation. Even when he tries to sing, he sounds like he's providing the narration rather than singing a song. Fortunately, he hands over actual singing duties here to the various guests. Angel Flame, the dancer in Turner's Space Ritual band and also the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, provides excellent narration on a couple of tracks too.
I talk about Turner like this is his band, but it isn't. Last time out, on The Final Frontier, it was and I'm assuming that all the creative decisions were his. That's not really the case here, because this is a Trance Dimensionals album, with Nik Turner a guest of sorts, even if he's an acutely prominent one. The Trance Dimensionals are the band of Steve Hillman, who provides the guitars, keyboards and synths here, as well as writing all the music and lyrics, except for a couple of those overblown narrations, which are the work of Terry James Hawke, and the final song, Children of the Sun, by a partnership of Nik Turner and Dave Anderson of Amon Düül II, the Groundhogs and, inevitably, an album by Hawkwind.
So this is really a Steve Hillman album, with Turner adding saxophone and flute and, occasionally, vocals. Oddly his sax is relatively subdued in the mix, so I had to focus hard to hear it on favourites like Night of the Jewelled Eye, the longest piece here, which starts out folkier and ends up almost in carnival territory when it gets frantic, though it never ceases to be space rock and really good space rock at that. His flute is much more obvious, especially on a beautiful but much calmer instrumental called Cloudlands, but also on Sphinx Dancer.
It's telling that all my favourites here are instrumentals and very possibly jams. It wouldn't shock me to discover that this line-up, which includes a couple of musicians Hillman performed with in a prog rock band called Ra Rising, Clog on bass and Dai Rees on drums, could just jam for hours and never cease to be interesting. When vocals show up and aren't just recited poetry in some form of collaborative performance art, it's the guests who shine, especially Eleanor Rees, who provides a memorable vocal on Children of the Sun.
And so, this is another 6/10 for me, though really that's a midpoint between a lot of 7/10 material and a lot of 5/10 material. Guess which side of that is almost entirely instrumentals? I see that Nik Turner has also released a collaborative album this year that I should check out, featuring a slew of enticing names, including Robby Krieger, Chris Poland and Steve Hillage, along with legendary jazz drummer Billy Cobham and others. It's called Space Fusion Odyssey and I guess it underlines a rather busy period in Turner's career.