SINGLE REVIEW: Beluga – ‘Painting with Three Colours’

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Leeds based Beluga describe themselves as an instrumental prog-rock trio. I’m going to give them ‘instrumental’ – there ain’t no vocals (except there are voice samples on this) – and ‘trio’ – again I can’t deny that, there are three of them – but I have something of a problem with them describing themselves as ‘prog-rock’. The problem with the term prog-rock is that it comes with a set of assumptions about what that means to the ‘listening public’.

The thing is that the bands – bands, by the way, I happen to love – who are labeled as prog-rock now were never that at the time; they made ‘progressive’ music. Music which mixed influences from all over the place – rock, classical, folk, jazz. African music, Latin music, all sorts of music – in a big melting pot with the added spice of musicians who really knew their stuff, and weren’t afraid to cross boundaries and push the envelope.

So can we go back to the beginning and say ‘Leed based Beluga are a progressive instrumental trio’ who – based on the music I’ve listened to from them, including this single – make music that has influences of jazz and African music, with the sounds of bands that I’d call ‘progressive rock’.

Now I’ve established where I’m coming from, let’s dive in. ‘Painting with Three Colours’ takes as its inspiration, its theme, ‘the art of Piet Mondrian, rearranging simple musical elements into unpredictable and abstract new sections, that remain relentlessly groovy’.

There’s a structure to this, it starts afrobeat, jazzy and light, it ends stompingly heavy. Along the way there are bursts of heavy angular guitar, slower sections of gentle guitar and washes of sound.It changes and changes. Jazz, jazz-rock, afrobeat, bluesy parts, sections that display the influence of King Crimson all have their part.

The first listen I took was an adventure in sound, not knowing where it was going next, being surprised by musical twists and turns. My (by now you’ll know this is how I review) repeated listens revealed layers of sound, unexpected wonderful sounds, the glorious moments where the piece takes off. I mentioned right at the top that this track has voices; it has spoken words, distorted vocal samples. These add a twist, a new layer.

It goes without saying that with instrumental music the playing has to be good, and the playing on this is outstanding; technically fantastic but with great feel. There’s a richness to the sound that comes from the three of them playing multiple instruments. But that richness is tempered by moments of sparseness. I have grown especially fond of the sax on this track – it’s used in different ways with different tones; for me it’s the driver of this piece.

I love this release. There are times when all I want to hear is a group of musicans stretching out, taking something and making it something else, twisting and weaving it into something new. This is the jazz fan in me, the progressive rock fan in me. And my only complaint about this track is that it could be longer; I’d just love to hear it stretched to its limit over, say, 15 or 20 minutes (or, to be honest, longer).

If this doesn’t sound like your thing can I suggest you take a listen with an open mind, let the music take you where it will. If this is your thing, do it, do it now. It’s a musical joy.

The info

The band say:

Beluga formed in 2016 when Joe Kershaw (Guitar, Bass), Tommy Diplock (Drums) and Ross Munro (Sax, Keys, Production) met whilst studying at Leeds Conservatoire. The trio combines rhythmic intricacy, powerful riffs and heavily fxed sax and synthesiser tones, expanding the scope of a traditional rock trio and pursuing a variety of musical textures throughout their compositions. Both the classic Prog giants of the 1970s (Yes, King Crimson) as well as modern innovators in groove based instrumental music (Snarky Puppy, Tigran Hamasyan, KNOWER) serve as inspiration for the band.