LAIf you need a cellist in Scotland to work on your album, you’ll ask Su-a Lee; in England you’ll go in search of Kathryn Locke. Kathryn is a maverick of the cello world, self-taught and experimental, rejecting the classical route. Kathryn has been away from the scene for a while with a serious illness but now she’s back with a new band, Chodompa Music, and a new album, LA. The band is Flook flautist, Sarah Allen, everyone’s favourite saxophonist, Jo Freya, percussionist Jo May who also plays balafon and Geoff Coombs on mandola. That isn’t a conventional line-up and the music they play isn’t entirely conventional either.

One really good thing about LA is the way Kathryn’s arrangements give everyone a turn in the spotlight. It’s her name on the cover but this is a very democratic project. Take the opening track, ‘Dancing In The Ancient Dirt’ as an example. It opens with pizzicato cello with, perhaps, some single plucked notes on mandola before Jo’s clarinet slides in. From then on the instruments weave in and out of the melody with Jo May’s percussion building up the intensity. ‘The Price’, which comes next, opens with mandola before Kathryn’s cello joins in and they maintain the tune as a mournful clarinet plays the top line. Both pieces are strongly melody and almost conventional. ‘Dervish’ is, as you might expect, a little wilder but still controlled and the percussion plays an important role.

‘When The Heart Returns’ features the voice of a Tibetan lama, specifically the 17th Karmapa. Quite how this came about isn’t explained but Kathryn’s cello sweeps up and down its range on a tune written around his vocal. Then it takes off in a completely new direction before returning to a contemplative mood around the Karmapa’s voice at its conclusion.

‘Kilter’ features Jo May’s percussion and Sarah’s flute on another restful composition while ‘Firebear’ verges on the experimental and is really Kathryn’s turn to bask in the floodlights. ‘Locke’s Lope’, written for her late brother, begins with a mandola figure by Geoff and he holds and develops that throughout the piece. It’s almost, but not quite, a traditional melody with little comic touches and Sarah features again. Actually it does seem that, as we approach the end of the album, the brakes are taken off a bit. ‘A Knowing Touch’ is a little strange and ‘Kuching’ finally features the balafon under what sounds almost like a hymn tune. It’s a truly delightful piece. Finally we have ‘Hugger Mugger’ on which everyone has a good blow.

LA isn’t really our usual fare but it’s a really enjoyable album. I’d love to hear Chodompa Music live but I have a feeling that I really wouldn’t know which way to look when they’re playing.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.kathrynlocke.co.uk