John Holden -
Proximity & Chance

(CD 2024, 53:50, Independent)

The tracks:
  1- 13(5:20)
  2- The Man Who Would Be King(10:38)
  3- A Sense of Place(3:10)
  4- Burnt Cork And Limelight(10:31)
  5- Agents(6:55)
  6- Fini(4:43)
  7- Proximity(4:41)
  8- Chance (Under One Sun)(7:52)

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John Holden has been an emergent name on the prog scene over the past six years during which he has released a canon of thoughtful, orchestrally driven music, Proximity & Chance being his fifth independently released studio album. Holden's burgeoning reputation means he can call on some illustrious names to support his musical ventures and this album is no exception.

The content of the album is like dipping into a sonic story book, most of the tracks based on an enthralling tale or an aspect of life which he finds particularly interesting.
First up, 13 is a look at superstition and all the quirky ways we ward off bad luck. Singing this tale is Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Cyan, Camel) who is accompanied by a pulsating electronic vibe, rumbling bass and ringing guitar from David Brons, the sound of breaking glass ending this cracking track.
Drawing inspiration from Rudyard Kipling's novella, a poignant trumpet fanfare from Moray Macdonald (Joe Payne, Rammleid) begins the story of The Man Who Would Be King. Vocals this time come from Southern Empire's Shaun Holton that work eloquently over the backdrop of stately, disciplined, almost restrained instrumentation that has a deliciously distinct Eastern vibe. Raising it to a higher intensity is an elegant synth solo from Vikram Shankar (Silent Skies).
A delightful instrumental interlude, A Sense Of Place inspired by a garden in Wales features John Hackett on flute with a tinkling piano and almost Baroque sounding acoustic guitar.
Going off at different musical tangent, Jones returns to tell the grisly story of Victorian actor William Terriss in Burnt Cork And Limelight who meets a violent end at the hands of a jealous rival. With Shankar on piano, Holden conjures up atmospheric darkness using orchestral effects and even a policeman's whistle.
Jones' vocals are both theatrical in a Phantom Of The Opera kind of way and engaging as he reaches the dramatic top notes to a round of applause - and deservedly so.
The sound of chiming bells in the cathedral city of Salisbury provides the setting for Agents, Holden's reading of the botched poisoning attempt by the Russians on a double agent and his daughter, which ultimately led to the death of an innocent woman.
Holton's rich vocals set the scene, Jones this time on organ and saxophone, providing show-stopping solos on while Luke Machin (Machine, The Tangent, Karnataka) provides superb edgy guitar.
There's another change of tone as Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) is vocally wistful on the sentimental Fini. Full of orchestral effects, it's the story of unfulfilled romantic expectations in a romantic place with the pay-off line: "I'll keep searching for the light."
Proximity and Chance are the companion pieces rounding off the album, the first, an orchestrally rich instrumental pondering Echus Chasma, the solar system's largest waterfall on Mars that ends with a gorgeous, almost choral-like outpouring.
Jones, Holton and Minnear join forces for the lovely, mellow Chance (Under One Sun) which ponders our life connections through family trees. Machin's guitar interlude blends beautifully into the lilting melody line.

It's another terrific, varied and deeply satisfying album from Holden, his wife Libby, who co-wrote the lyrics, and friends, one which will be on many "favourites" list at the end of 2024.

**** Alison Reijman

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