OK let us get the difficult part out of the way first. Alterations the new album from English pianist and singer/songwriter Mark Northfield, is an album of two parts, the almost pop and almost classical. The five songs of the almost classical part are connected to and derived from the five in the almost pop first half whether from a riff, series of notes, or a theme and some may also have a lyrical connection between them too. Ok so far? Alterations is also mirrored at its centre so track 6 is derived from track 5, 7 from 4 and so on…come on keep up. The album is also set up so it can not only to be listened to from start to finish to get the most from and to appreciate the creativity at work. Northfield says it can be looked at also as a collection of five double A-side single’ and listened in that way too. ..phew we got there. The simple part of the whole thing is that Alterations is rather good, an evocative and intriguing venture that might make one work to discover all that is going on but gives ensures full enjoyment trying.
Berkshire born and London based, Northfield is a classically trained pianist, arranger and songwriter who regularly works as an accompanist for ballet and contemporary dance classes at London Contemporary Dance School, Arts Ed, and the Royal Academy Of Dance. These roles make great use of his talent for improvisation and reinterpretation something that is apparent on the album. Alterations follows 2008 album Ascendant, and the two EPs The Death Of Copyright and Nothing Impossible from 2011 and February this year respectively. The new album features a fine array of guest vocalists and musical contributors to bring a distinctly varied and eclectic quality to accompany the equally remarkable compositions.
The album opens with The Death Of Copyright a buoyant pop driven piece of Divine Comedy like grandeur complete with a contrasting rock lined verse and a classical awareness of the truth and beauty of the emotions weaving within the prose. You get the feel Northfield who is the lead vocalist here with the delightful tones of Ellen Jakubiel joining in, is at times having a dig at pop and rock music and their often sense of superiority through the humorous and mischievous wink within the song. The pulsating soul funk melody that saunters throughout is openly 70’s disco sourced with Northfield himself mentioned the song Superstition as inspiration.
In theory we should probably pair up the two mirror images but we would not want to take away the mystery and adventure from you and truthfully it is not always that open what the linking and pairing is.
The wonderful Some Songs… is a mesmeric track with a darkened show tune grace and drama. It wonderfully feels a little off kilter, like a waltz from a slightly discordant parallel song walking a lonely yet soulful path though the track. The following and excellent You Don’t Need Me To Tell You That with the returning Jakubiel in a duet with Matt Crutchlow is a stunning summery song and relatively conventional for the album. It reminds of XTC around the Skylarking time with lyrical composition that is again more show tune than pop song.
The first half is made up with the pop rock anthem Nothing Impossible, a passionate and emotive song dealing with suicide which unleashes its pent up anger and frustration as it builds towards a powerful and forward moving climax, and the electronic hypnotic Headlonging. The track is inspirational with the chorister voice of Jon Payne a wonderful companion to the effect layered delivery from Northfield.
The mirror half of the album is equally as impressive and remarkable in its own emotional and heart clasped classical breath. The lovely song The Up Shit Creek Blues with the darkened distortions behind the fine vocals of Alexandra Howlett adding a disengaging atmosphere to the lyrics and a song one could imagine Edith Piaf within if her time was now, alongside the world/classical Latin elegance of Aurora stand out amongst the quintet of hypnotic songs.
Personally the first half takes the honours the way Alterations is laid out but listened to as a series of singles as suggested the album and songs work even better and with a more fluid charm. The album is excellent and the more one plays with it the more it endears itself and reveals further the mind and ideas behind. This is our first meeting with Mark Northfield but it will not be the last, more please.