4SQUARE - 20:20 Manchester

4SQUARE - 20:20 Manchester
Own Label SQUACD001

4square is a quartet of young musicians based in Manchester.  This is their debut album.  On it they successfully walk the thin line between experimentation and overconfidence.  The album is self-assured in every respect, but one is never left with a sense of innovation for its own sake or of ideas, which would have been better off abandoned.  Although based around the group’s four musicians, the album makes well-considered use of guests and sessions players, among them brass, a string quartet and the bellringers of Manchester Cathedral.

Although there is clearly composing talent within the group (over half the album’s 17 tracks are original), they clearly have an ear for a good song and the album features several well-chosen contemporary compositions.  Although they are vocally commanding (all hail the captivating voice of Nicola Lyons), they choose to open the album with four instrumental tracks, the first of which is an urban stereoscopic soundscape called neO.  Although their music is rooted in tradition, it is heavily influenced by jazz in its rhythmic structures and phrasing.

While most of the material on the album will be new to most listeners, a couple of modern classics immediately invite comparison – Pete Scrowther’s Lily of Barbary and Richard Thompson’s Farewell, Farewell.  Interestingly programmed next to each other towards the end of the album.  The former was learned from P J Wright’s recording (duly credited in the notes): a rich arrangement and uncompromisingly off-beat driving percussion give the tale of love a piracy a new slant which is totally valid.  Farewell, Farewell should be a different matter: a piece of miniature perfection from ‘Liege and Lief’, it is almost musical holy ground.  What 4square have done with the song is stunning – a sparse initial arrangement, a gorgeously arranged instrumental section, an acapella verse and a coda of sublime wistfulness.  This is a bold, adventurous, rewarding and extremely promising debut.

Nigel Schofield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 82 of The Living Tradition magazine.