Auka are a trio of talented instrumentalists with a passion for the natural, who draw inspiration from the beauty to be found in and around their home city, Sheffield. On their second album, Wild Waters, the region’s waterways are evoked in a set of complex and atmospheric tone poems.
Celtic folk is Auka’s dominant musical influence, but they describe themselves as genre defying and the complexity of their compositions give them a distinctive style. Their music is generally led by Kirsty Lomax’s Irish flute and whistles, very ably accompanied by Matt Gilchrist on acoustic guitar and Joss Mann-Hazell on double bass, whose playing style brings a jazz inflection to several tracks.
Wild Waters opens with the title track, a set of three tunes inspired by three features of a river – ‘Poole’, ‘Riffle’ and ‘Glide’. The track opens with flute and guitar evoking the flow of water with some quick, discordant sequences. The tempo picks up on ‘Riffle’, and the guest percussionist – Ford Collier of The Drystones – is heard for the first time, before a smoother melody takes over on ‘Glide’.
‘Trespass’ is a gentle and beautiful tune, inspired by the band’s deep commitment to the Right to Roam movement. The tune is led by Kirsty playing whistle, with some nice guitar work from Matt. Kirsty, with two guest performers, also provides some backing vocals – only voices heard on this album.
‘Solstice’ is a celebration of the tradition of wild swimming at Summer Solstice. Kirsty’s flute provides the main melody, while Joss’ double bass playing helps to provide a jazzy feel for a tune inspired by a fun occasion.
The guitar opens the next track, before the breathy sound of the Irish flute again takes the lead. ‘Refuge’ was written by the band as they played music beside a crackling fire, sheltering from bleak winter weather. The gentle tune evokes the feeling of warmth and safety. That feeling is increased for me, by the sound of the double base being played with the bow.
Two linked tunes follow. ‘Tributary’ and ‘Watersmeet’ form another narrative tone poem, following the flow of wild waters. We start with a gentle guitar melody representing a quiet, forgotten tributary. The flue joins in, and the tempo increases when the ripples become lively swirls and eddies as they flow into the river.
‘Rivelin’ takes its name from another of Sheffield’s waterways. I’ve never been there, but the sleeve note description of dippers and herons among derelict industrial mills, makes it sound well worth a visit. It’s another atmospheric, flute led piece. The melody is gentle, with some sombre sequences, perhaps evoking the abandoned mills, now taken over by nature.
‘Brook II’ is so called because it’s the second tune the band have written about Porter Brook, which runs through a beautiful tree lined valley in Sheffield. The opening has a gentle and dreamy feel, before the double base arrives, and the tempo picks up.
The notes suggest that Kirsty wrote ‘Breathless’ in a hurry, and it does have some quick, breathless sounding sequences. It has a recurring melody with a folk-dance feel, interspersed with some quick changes in tempo and more jazz touches.
The atmospheric feel returns on ‘Night Swim’, telling of a journey across a silent reservoir in the dark. There is an ethereal and soulful feel to this track, nicely evoking the silence and the darkness.
Wild Waters concludes with ‘Getaway’, which the band claim to have written to satisfy their inner desires to be a funk band. For a while it sounds more like modern jazz, until a bit of funky guitar kicks in and the Auka’s funk ambitions are fulfilled. It’s different to the rest of the album, but a fun and lively closing track.
The name Auka comes from an old Norse word meaning to grow or augment. They believe that this sums up their organic approach to music making, where melodies swell from intimate and sublime to turbulent and powerful. I’ve described some of the tracks on Wild Water as tone poems and this organic approach is well suited to that. These are complex tunes in which the unpredictable movement of water and changes in flow and landscape are evoked by changes in tempo and atmosphere. The results are impressive, but at times it’s not easy to discern a central melody. Wild Water perhaps also lacks any standout, album defining tracks.
In fairness though, there are no weak tracks, and this is a thoughtful album that I’m sure will grow on listeners over time. All eleven tracks on Wild Water are complex, thoughtful, and beautifully performed by a talented trio.
Artists’ website: aukamusic.co.uk
‘Solstice’ – official video:
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