Album Review: Big Space – In Relation To

Big Space – In Relation To
October 22nd, 2021
Jazz Fusion / Progressive Rock
Independently Released
St. John’s, Newfoundland

Big Space are St. John’s resident jazz fusion trio. Featuring Ian Murphy on bass, Ashley Chalmers on drums, and Grant King on guitars, these guys are a purely instrumental act who definitely know their way around a composition or two. Up until now the band has only released one record, which was a live album recorded at The Levee way back in 2016. In Relation To is thus their first ‘real’ LP, recorded in a studio, mixed by Justin Merdsoy, and mastered by Nate Wood at Kerseboom Mastering.

Now, jazz isn’t exactly an area that I’m super familiar with, what with me being a mostly metal and punk-focused reviewer. But, I have been known to dabble in progressive music from time to time, and Big Space fit comfortably enough within that category that I’m willing to cover these guys on this here blog.

In Relation To takes the listener on a pretty awesome journey from start to finish. The sounds on this record are quite varied and numerous, with the band venturing from jazz fusion into post rock and math rock segments, drawing influence from a number of different worlds. Some songs, like “Almost Everything” as well as “I Was Looking for You There” have this really whimsical vibe to them, almost feeling like they would be part of the soundtrack to a slice of life Studio Ghibli film. Other songs, like “Triptrap” and “Relevator”, have way mor energy to them, almost feeling like they could be part of the soundtrack to a video game like a modern entry into the Super Mario Bros. series.

The guitar sounds on here are smooth and airy, seeming to float above the rest of the instrumentation, conjuring up memories of other Newfoundland and Labrador-based bands throughout the province’s history, namely Oceanic and The Cartridge Family (hence the Super Mario Bros reference earlier). There’s a lot of similarity to those two acts found in the guitarwork on this record, which is really interesting to me considering the relative size of the Newfoundland scene in general. There are times when the guitars feel more like an accent to the bass and drums, whereas on other songs King just goes absolutely hog-wild with the shredding.

Meanwhile, the bass stays slightly in the background, but is largely responsible for laying down some pretty sick grooves throughout the record, such as on the opening song “Almost Everything”. Murphy sounds like he’s having an absolute blast playing his axe on this album, moving all up and down the fretboard like a groove wizard, and it feels like most of the record is very bass-driven or bass-led. Songs like “See Through”, in which the guitars are much more atmospheric and there more for window dressing (at least for part of it), the importance of the bass really shines through.

The drums are also an absolute treat to listen to. Jazz is typically thought of as a particularly difficult genre for drummers, as many of the world’s drumming greats have been borne out of the jazz world, but I’d definitely say Chalmers has the chops to be playing this kind of stuff. The beats he lays down here are so sweet to listen to, and I always end up focusing in on the tricky, little hi-hat and ride beats he’s got going on on songs like the aforementioned “See Through”.

Production-wise I think this album sounds absolutely gorgeous. For instrumental rock music like this, production is everything, and I’m happy to report that things sound clean and serene on this album, from top to bottom. Every ghost note on the snare drum and every minor crack of the cymbals are enunciated, while the guitars and bass are locked into perfect dueling harmony with one another. Everything is crystal clear. In some ways I’m reminded of larger bands in the broader progressive music world, such as Scale the Summit, with the way this album was produced. In fact, I could even see some of these songs being inspired by Scale the Summit in the way they’re constructed.

My biggest issue with the record is that I feel like it’s a tad on the longer side. While I don’t mind listening to instrumental music, I feel like by the end of the record I’m sort of waiting for it to be over. It doesn’t overstay its welcome too long, but even just cutting down the tracklist by one song might have made for a more concise and digestible piece, perhaps the interlude “After Words”, for example. However, maybe digestibility isn’t what Big Space is going for. This kind of music has never been made to be easily accessible, after all. Ultimately, this is a nitpick.

Big Space really bring their best to the table with this record. It’s a strong debut that makes me excited to hear what they’ll come up with in the future. I’m usually a little bit picky with instrumental rock music, but this album has been scratching an itch that I haven’t felt in a while. These kinds of smooth, atmospheric, almost downright sensual grooves are exactly what I was hoping for from this record, which is amazing when you consider that most of these tunes are written in a very improvisational manner. This record ultimately won’t be for everyone, but if you like jazz, post rock, math rock, prog rock, or any combination of those sounds, you’ll almost certainly find something to like here.

Final Verdict: 9/10

Favourite Tracks:
“Almost Everything”
“See Through”

For Fans Of:
Scale the Summit

~ Akhenaten

One thought on “Album Review: Big Space – In Relation To

  1. Pingback: January 2022 in Review | HeavyNFLD

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