101CD - Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere - Theta Five - CD plus download

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The fifth album by this adventurous improvising rock group. This time round an expanded 8 piece version of the band improvised in the studio for two days in October 2019. These live recordings were extensively reworked and arranged over the following months with the addition of composed vocal and instrumental material. The end result is the band’s most expansive and adventurous work to date, with a greater emphasis on improvisation not seen since the band’s first album – but the improvised elements are contrasted strongly with the rhythmic and lyrical passages where the voice and some tighter structures come to the fore.

“The large ensemble harnesses a hybrid patchwork of electro-acoustic textures that brings to mind the spacey explorations of Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Can et al. Choirs, choppy strings, throbbing beats, dreamy vocals and snarling bass rise and soar into bold themes creating a diverse and thrilling listen.” - SID SMITH, PROG


Martin Archer – saxophones, clarinet, flute, organ, mellotron, software instruments, voices
Steve Dinsdale – drums, synths
Lorin Halsall – double bass, electric upright bass, electronics
Yvonna Magda – violin, electronics
Andy Peake – rhodes, synths
Walt Shaw – percussion, electronics
Jan Todd – vocals, voices, lyrics, harps, electronics, laptop, midi keys, bowed acoustic bass guitar, glockenspiel, 12 string guitar, Korg wave drum, Idiopan

Terry Todd – electric bass guitar, acoustic 12 string guitar



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Another patient - and prolific - source of high quality music now operating at a moderately indispensible level, is Martin Archer’s Discus Records (whom we also have to thank for the recent Keith Tippett releases). This is the fifth record from TOOTUA, now an 8-piece (acoustic and electric basses, drums, horns, harp, Mellotron, violin, organ, a lot of electronics and some voice). It’s a rock-rooted aesthetic, but with acres of space for improvisation, sonic exposition and studio manipulation. Assembled (a lot like Unrest-era Henry Cow) through a process of focused improvisation, extensive editing, customized composition, many overdubs and radical mixing - the results are persuasive and full of musical substance. These are mostly long-form pieces - to sink into and follow as they twist and turn. There is no shortage of ideas. Best approached, I think, like an immersive live concert, with an aesthetic somewhere between the ‘mid ‘60s and the mid ‘70s, - only much better recorded. Give it a try. If not now, when?  Reminds me rather of H Cow - I listened as to a gig, no idea where it was going.  Great record, rare these days. - Chris Cutler ReR



It is a programmatic orchestral title found here because it is in the high atmospheres that the music moves here. We are at the crossroads of soft rock and contemporary music where electronics and improvisation are invited. Fabulous mix. But best of all, it's the psychedelic touch that defines this album that is unlike any other. Now, for this mind-blowing kaleidoscope to unfold in the obsessive and obsessive meanderings that characterize this record, the four tracks are relatively long - especially "Pillared Space" which lasts 42 minutes! - and follow one another as if they were one piece. This is of course very pleasant because the album, with a collective of musicians including Martin Archer, founder of the British label Discus Music, offers an hour and twenty minutes of stratospheric musical exploration. - Gil Gjrngs in Citizen Jazz



Imagine a grand combination of classic 70's gems 'Islands' by King Crimson, 'In Search Of Ancient Gods' by Absolute Elsewhere, but a far more ghostly version of those, plus some acid influenced Andreas Vollenweider (addng Harp), a good dose of Krautrock exploration, and that notable fuzz toned Canterbury minus the vocals of 1969 diamond Arzachel. This begins a more involved description of the tapestry Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere weave in their fifth release on the outstanding Discus Music label. The addition of Jan Todd's otherworldly voice (much like her Frostlake albums) brings in even more dimension and mystery. The electronics are first-rate and the ability of the band to create a well organized balance of space, time, and density is amazing. That covers the first two tracks.  The equal musicianship of [all the players] brings about a magical chemistry not found too often in groups this size. Fans will notice an 8 piece outfit this time.  With a match of playfulness, spacious groove, and flowing exploration (the tripping type), 'Theta Five' gives the listener another spectacular aural pleasure.  The musicians involved have extensive backgrounds in many genres, including free jazz, smart improv, electronics, various fusions, and of course all the styles I already mentioned in this review.  This album was started with totally improvised sessions, then later (over months) honed and made richer with vocals and some composed parts. Thus, the whole is full of spark and elation.  All the pieces are extended (there are only four) but the one of greatest length ('Pillared Space' 42:03) really dives deep into the celestial beyond, with about as a psychedelic journey as ever was created (even from those wondrous early 70's gems), plus added acid folk doses, more heavenly vocals by Jan Todd, which takes you back to the 60's paisley folk era full of the innocence and dreams we all once had. Soon enough though, comes distortion and a bit of chaos, still keeping a lost in space atmosphere. This stuff really blasts off into unknown orbits, and the audience is given a thrill ride, then calm, and surprise, and calm, and a world full of colors, emotions, and peace, after the many events. The last work ('Zyxomma' 09:01) takes off with a driving bass, groove along drums, organ, a bit of gothic trippy fast paced Richard Burmer infused greatness. Yes, I did just get transported back in time, and I did not mind one bit.  As usual, I have to thank Martin Archer and company, of Discus Music, for the superior packaging of the physical CD. They still come with the plastic inner sleeve to protect the disc, and this is with a 6 panel full color glossy digipak, totally classy and well thought out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! – Lee Henderson, BIG BEAUTIFUL NOISE https://www.bigbeautifulnoise.com



The Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere‘s fifth outing finds it expanded to an eight-piece and the bulk of the new album’s material being improvised over two days at the end of 2019. Those initial sessions and the subsequent solitary fettling and studio production over 2020 have resulted in an extraordinary odyssey of sound that encompasses structureless, textural drift and gliding, rhythmic hypnosis in equal measure plus all points in between.  Comprising four pieces, the central one of which spans a gargantuan forty minutes, the orchestra builds on Theta Five using subtle palettes and allows the vocalising of Jan Todd to entwine with the assorted instrumentation at her leisure. There is an unspecified, industrial gloom to the sly droney intro of opener “Obsidian”, with the players all giving hints of their capabilities but without overwhelming at any point. I thought I heard a cello, but as there isn’t one listed, something else is masquerading. The sounds are ruminative and submerged, and the beatless atmosphere is careful and wary. Twenty minutes allows a good opportunity for a piece to unfold and “Changeling”, with eight members all willing to add to the spicy concoction (I can’t say stew, as that infers thickness and there is a lightness of touch here).  The slinky, spacey bass is the foundation over which the tinkle of electric piano and a scattering of shape shifting drums glides as it charms with its ease of movement, the horns measured and gauzey. The beauty of this long form is the gradual change in tone and structure; a groove rises from the gentle tumult along with a hypnotic horn motif, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a pastoral folk Stereolab — but only for a moment, Jan’s voice evoking a green dream of a golden land.  On the forty-minute “Pillared Space”, there is even less structure and that really suits the light airiness of the vocals that warm the heart. There is a vocal waltz with a flute as scuffling mysteries ebb and flow, generating a feeling of passing through galaxies, the laptop and electronics sweeping and the bass continually exploring the deep recesses. This is all about exploration and discovery, with instruments emerging from behind distant clusters, trapped in the glow of faint stars; a warm vocal, a spiralling horn loop, elastic, growling bass and paroxysms of instruments in the thrall of space.  Bass is king on the final piece, its deep groove playing with hints of piano and the other musicians interjecting, casually showing their presence. The sounds are obscured and obfuscated as they play off one another, the interplay whirling around the listener, keeping them off guard, not knowing what sound may next assail them. The orchestra comes across like a universe constantly expanding, consuming ideas and expelling them with panache and joy. It is a thrill to experience this kind of musical and textural communion, and it leaves other improv groups in its wake. - Mr Olivetti, FREQ  




The group plays a groundbreaking mix of psychedelic progressive rock, mesmerizing electronics, avant-garde classical and jazz improvisation.  Effortlessly combines acoustic and electric instruments along with captivating vocals to deliver a fascinating set of adventurous musical pieces. - Progressive Rock Central




The raw materials for OUA's fifth album comes from just two days studio playing.  The group......features a number of multi instrumentalists but their music is remarkably uncluttered.  The rhythm section get funky with additional double bass.  Jan Todd's wordless vocals drift in and out while Martin Archer's eerie mellotron looms up in the background.  Their approach has a kinship with Miles Davis circa Bitches Brew, Amon Duul II's Yeti or Ummagumma era Pink Floyd.  At 42 minutes, Pillared Space is an album within an album, a vast landscape with tom-tom patterns occasionally racing across the soundfield, small chamber groups gathering in clearings surrounded by gleaming synths, and there's even a song in the middle.  The piece builds up to a beautiful conclusion with Terry Riley-esque echoed sax and vocal chorales, all of which typifies the ego-less empathy of this truly remarkable group. - Mike Barnes, PROG



This is the 5 disc from this unique UK octet. This disc is pretty long (79 minutes) and is filled with many wonders. "Changeling" has a spacey, prog-like sound complete with the ancient psych/prog sound of a mellotron and sparkling synths. Instead sounding cheesy or dated, the music has a fresh, old school progressive rock/classical/jazz sound which is most enchanting. There are no vocals on the first two songs for those who care. Although this is an octet, the music is still stripped down nicely. The main sound here is mostly: electric piano, synths, saxes, violin, bass and drums with occasional processed vocals floating on top. This disc was recorded live in a studio and has an especially warm, charming sound. Practically all members of this ensemble play synth or electronics, yet these sounds are well blended, never too dense or too weird, the way some experimental music can be. "Pillared Space" is an epic album length work (42 minutes), which has some hypnotic, spacey sounds with layers of floating synth(s), soft voice, electronics, mellotron, another keyboard, flute and skeletal drums. Drummer Steve Dinsdale sounds especially inspired here, whipping up a rhythmic cushion underneath the octet. This piece has a section later on for some charming proggish female vocals and 12 string acoustic guitar. The dreamy aspect of this music actually feels nice, calm at the center with some occasional cosmic swirls. Good music to drift away by especially after a day of venting frustration from the right wing propaganda media which pervades from our cellphones and computers. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 



Recorded over a mere two days in October 2019, my favourite Sheffield Kosmische spacejazz collective return to their roots with a sprawling journey through outer and inner space, fired up by improvisational derring-do in a manner not seen since their first album, Theta One, back in 2014. If Theta Four was as close as this band came to being concise, even commercial, Theta Five takes it back out into the far-flung orbit of subliminal musical communication, a place where time is an irrelevant concept.

Not that this CD is 79 minutes of formless drifting, oh no. This expanded eight-piece version of the band provide groove aplenty, which is woven throughout the four pieces on the album, giving it a solid structure. Think Miles jamming in a teepee with Alice Coltrane and Can. Conny Plank is behind the bar, with a shaker. There are hummable tunes, hipswaying rhythms, and subsonic beats, and there is even an ethereal ballad buried within the controlled chaos of album centrepiece, the 42-minute Pillared Space! It sits there like a benevolent desert island in the middle of a vast, tumultuous sea.  Theta Five is a fabulous album that has something for every altered reality space traveller out there. - Roger Trenwith, THE PROGRESSIVE ASPECT https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog



"Θ5" (Theta Five) ist da! An zwei Tagen im Oktober 2019 traf sich das Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere im Studio, um weitestgehend improvisierend die Musik für das fünfte Album einzuspielen. Das Orchestra wurde dazu um zwei Mitspieler erweitert; insbesondere hatte man mit Andy Peake wieder ein hauptamtlichen Tastendrücker gefunden. Die Aufnahmen wurden in den nachfolgenden Monaten von Martin Archer umfangreich bearbeitet, um weiteres Material ergänzt und fertig abgemischt. Im Oktober 2020 erschien das Album bei Discus Music auf CD, die wie immer in einem hübschen Pappfaltteil steckt.

Einen veritablen Fast-40-Minüter hat das OUA hier am Start. Von Labelseite teilt man auch dementsprechend mit, dass es sich bei "Θ5" um das bisher ausladenste und abenteuerlichste Werk der Formation handeln würde. In Bezug auf "Pillared Space" stimmt das wohl, zumindest was die Länge anbelangt. Ich würde nun aber nicht sagen wollen, dass die ersten vier Alben der Gruppe weniger abenteuerlich (progressiv, kreativ) waren. Und, die ersten drei Werke des Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere waren deutlich umfangreicher.


Gut gefüllt ist "Θ5" aber natürlich trotzdem. Das gewohnt abwechslungsreiche, stilistisch schwer eingrenzbare, farbig instrumentierte und sehr virtuos und klangvoll vorgetragene Gemenge aus Jazzrock (mit Canterbury-Atmosphäre), Elektronischem, Retroprogressivem (inklusive Mellotron), komplexem Ensemblerock und freierem Tonbasteln hat das OUA auch auf diesem Album im Angebot. Voluminöse Tastensounds und diverse Elektronikklänge bilden die Grundlage der Musik, bisweilen im krautigen Geiste kantig dahinströmend, in die allerlei Perkussion, trötend-flötende Bläserklänge, Bassknurren, knarzende Geigenlinien (all dass bisweilen effektverfremdet und bearbeitet) und auch einiges an menschlichen Lautäußerungen eingewoben sind. Sehr dynamisch und dicht verwoben arbeiten sich die Nummern voran, mal frei wogend, mal kantig lärmend, mal schwungvoll rockend, mal kosmisch schwebend, mal jazzig tanzend.


Vielleicht ist die Musik wirklich ein Stück freiformatiger geraten und wirkt improvisierter als auf den vier Vorgängern. Nicht selten wuseln hier die Klänge jedenfalls recht schräg durcheinander, ohne allerdings das Ziel aus den Augen (den Ohren) zu verlieren. Recht schnell arbeiten sich jeweils wieder perkussive Muster, lyrische, oft von Gesangseinlagen bestimmte Passagen, oder retroorientierte Canterburyprogreminiszenzen nach vorne. Eine Art Free-Jazzprog ist das meist, der ein wenig an die ähnlich ausladenden Ensemblewerke eines Keith Tippett gemahnt (siehe "Septober Energy" und "Frames"), oder an ausgedehnte Livenummern von Henry Cow erinnert. Deutlich elektronischer ist die Musik des Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere aber ausgefallen, direkter und rocklastiger, vielleicht auch ein wenig vielschichtiger (und moderner) in Bezug auf die verwendeten Klangfarben. 


Mit "Θ5" haben die Damen und Herren um Martin Archer ein weiteres starkes Album vorgelegt, welches sich klaren Genrezuweisungen entzieht, aber sicher zur progressivsten Musik gehört, die heutzutage im erweiterten Rockumfeld erzeugt wird. Wer sich für solcherart Klänge interessiert, keine Aversionen gegen jazzig-rockiges bzw. freieres Klangbasteln hat, der/die sollte "Θ5" nicht verpassen. Demnächst dann "Θ6"? - Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE SEITEN



Sheffield-based Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere delivers its fifth album. We are talking of a project with a focus on improvising rock that was started by multi-sided musician Martin Archer around 2012. For this occasion the band is expanded up to eight musicians: Martin Archer (saxophones, clarinet, flute, organ, mellotron, software instruments, voices), Steve Dinsdale (drums, synths), Lorin Halsall (double bass, electric upright bass, electronics), Yvonna Magda (violin, electronics), Andy Peake (Rhodes, synths), Walt Shaw (percussion, electronics), Jan Todd (vocals, voices, lyrics, harps, electronics, laptop, midi keys, bowed acoustic bass guitar (on Obsidian), glockenspiel, 12-string guitar, Korg wave drum, Idiopan) and Terry Todd (electric bass guitar, acoustic 12-string guitar). The CD consists of four tracks. Opening track ‘Obsidian’ is a richly textured soundscape, preluding and indicating in seven minutes the spaceways being travelled this time. Following is the 20-minute track ‘Changeling’ starts from a slow groove with mellotron in the forefront. After a few minutes, the beat-driven music accelerates with jazzy motives introduced by the blowers. Halfway violin and other strings introduce a new chapter. Nearing the end keyboards take the lead. ‘Pillared Space’ is an oversized 42-minute journey. This one feels very improvised. Constantly progressing in a searching and hinting mode. Halfway appears a song with beautiful vocals by Jan Todd. I’m old enough to have nostalgic feelings listening to this album and also feel sympathy for their undertaking that departs from 70s-based musical forms: electronic, fusion, Canterbury, progressive rock, improvisation. It was this decade that recording long spun-out music became common praxis due to the possibilities of the lp-format. The spun-out explorations by Archer and his mates have fine arrangements and colouring in. Surely it is not a pure retro-motivated trip, but they are also not very eager to discover new territories. Nevertheless, a solid statement of dedicated musicians sharing the same dream. The live improvised session was recorded on two days in October 2019 in the studio. Afterwards, the material was reworked, etc. – Dolf Mulder, VITAL WEEKLY



The 5th album from the UK collective improvising progressive rock band, merging acoustic and electronic instruments in rich and often dreamlike forms that flow with spirited refinement. . – SQUID’S EAR



Pour son 5ème album, ils sont 8 : les musiciens de l’ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE. « Theta five », est le fruit de deux jours d’enregistrements en improvisation, en octobre 2019, complété par des mois de travail de montage, d’arrangement, d’adition de matériel vocal et instrumental composé. Ceci afin d’arriver à l’album le plus abouti du groupe. Le résultat : 4 morceaux pour un total de près de 80 minutes de musique avec des passages planants à souhait, dont un morceau de 42 minutes !  - Guy Stuckens, Radio Air Libre 



C’est un intitulé d’orchestre programmatique qu’on trouve ici car c’est bien dans les hautes atmosphères que la musique se meut ici. On est à la croisée d’un doux rock et de la musique contemporaine où s’invitent l’électronique et l’improvisation. Fabuleux mélange. Mais mieux encore, c’est la touche psychédélique qui définit cet album qui ne ressemble à aucun autre. Or, pour que cet hallucinant kaléidoscope puisse se déployer dans les savoureux méandres obsessionnels et obnubilants qui caractérisent ce disque, les quatre morceaux sont relativement longs – particulièrement « Pillared Space » qui s’étend sur 42 minutes ! – et s’enchaînent comme s’ils ne constituaient qu’une seule pièce. C’est bien entendu fort agréable car l’album, aux manettes duquel on trouve un collectif de musiciens parmi lesquels Martin Archer – fondateur du label britannique Discus Music – propose une heure et vingt minutes d’exploration musicale stratosphérique. - Gil Gjrngs, Citizen Jazz



Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere is Archer’s talented group who always pull off the feat of sounding like there are more players than there are. Here on Theta Five (DISCUS MUSIC DISCUS101CD), an eight-piece of amplified musicians create a maximal effect without needing to resort to loud volume; plenty of rich detail, incident, and musical texture. On their previous outing this “improvising rock group” were seemingly keen to experiment with several stylistic modes, while today’s album is more focussed; at any rate they certainly aim for long duration, the better to express the joys of unfettered playing; ‘Changeling’ is a substantial 20:29, but the heavyweight here is ‘Pillared Space’, zoning in with the full album-length 42:03 minutes. Both of these give a tremendous amount of leeway to the players to stretch out and meander, without losing sight of a core structure that keeps everything hanging together.



As ever with Archer, the process of realisation is meticulous, thorough, labour-intensive; a combination of composition with improvisation, and a certain amount of studio editing and arrangement after the fact. This all creates a nice tension between freedom and structure, leaving plenty of imaginary space for the listener to explore. Some fusion-esque elements appear scattered about the nebulous sprawl, and there’s a fair amount of electronic devices bubbling around under and over the surface, including synths, mellotron, software, midi keyboards, the Korg wave drum, and just plain “live electronics”. Some of this project was realised during lockdown in 2020, and the group photograph reflects this isolation, showing a composite of figures collaged in a white room, some of them standing in gilt frames like full-length portraits. – Ed Pinsent, SOUND PROJECTOR



Il suffit de lire le nom des musiciens qui composent cet ensemble, Martin ARCHER, Jan et Terry TODD, j’en passe, que des noms prestigieux, pour comprendre à quel point nous sommes là dans le très haut du panier. C’est à la fois tout un univers musical, instrumental, vocal et expérimental que propose ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE, un univers étonnant, passionnant, émouvant. Et dire que tout cela est improvisé alors que cela semble si méticuleusement composé.


Cela commence par des nappes de violons qui s’élèvent par vagues et des voix qui paraissent descendre des cieux. Ensuite tout s’enchaîne comme par enchantement. On pense bien sûr à COLTRANE, à SUN RA, à Miles DAVIS. Juste pour vous dire le niveau. Et il faut aussi évoquer les instruments, de quoi ouvrir un magasin, des orgues, des synthés, des saxophones, des harpes, des violons, des percussions, impossible de tout citer. Et des voix aussi, et quelles voix ! Ce Theta 5 d’ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE, c’est donc du lourd de chez lourd.


D’ailleurs, ce Theta 5 n’est que la suite des précédents épisodes, je veux parler des Theta 1, Theta 2 et Theta 3 et Theta 4 qui étaient déjà particulièrement brillants. De fait, l’ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE creuse son sillon dans les airs album après album, et autant le dire aussi, réussite après réussite. Martin ARCHER et ses fabuleux comparses sont totalement à la hauteur de leurs ambitions, et les airs qu’ils nous jouent nous plongent dans d’indicibles et sublimes atmosphères.

C’est unique en réalité. Non seulement parce que l’ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE est unique juste par lui-même, mais aussi parce que toute improvisation est par essence unique par elle-même. C’est une même inspiration provenant d’on ne sait où qui anime l’ensemble et vivifie sa musique et c’est la manifestation éphémère de cet instant unique qui est enregistrée au vol. Mais quand ce sont des musiciens aussi accomplis qui exécutent sans rattrapage possible ce tour de magie, alors je vous laisse imaginer la beauté et l’excellence du résultat !


Dans ce Theta 5, deux morceaux se distinguent particulièrement. Il y a d’abord, bien sûr, Changeling, avec ses plus de 20 minutes, souvent acrobatiques, parfois suspendues, toujours fascinantes. Mais il y a surtout Pillared Space, 42 minutes d’une seule et même improvisation à la fois multiple et unie, éparpillée et solide, véritable tour de force et chef d’œuvre de liberté instrumentale en action, là, maintenant, tout de suite, en temps réel, sans filet.


Bravo, respect, chapeau bas. Prêt pour cette incroyable odyssée musicale ? N’hésitez pas. Ce Theta 5 est un nouvel incontournable d’ORCHESTRA OF THE UPPER ATMOSPHERE !  - Frédéric Gerchambeau – RYTHMES CROISES



The result is music, which was improvised over a two-day recording period, and then reworked and rearranged with additional composed and vocal elements added, which in many ways reminds me of some of the albums by Robin Taylor with Taylor's Free Universe. Musically it is taking RIO, Zeuhl, jazz and modern classical, and throwing it all into a melting pot and seeing what comes out the other side. It is complex and complicated, and the combination of improvised and composed works means that it feels both free yet structured at the same time. There are no limits placed on any of the music, so the musicians go wherever they wish, and anyone can be taking the lead or providing support, or both.  There are only four tracks, which are mostly instrumental, but one of these is more than 20 minutes in length while another is twice that size. It is hugely experimental, yet also atmospheric and there is little in the sense of discord that we sometimes get with this type of music, yet it is still challenging in that one never knows where the journey is going to lead. It can be reflective or chaotic, repetitive, or taking on new elements as it twists and turns through the labyrinth of sound. This is not something which can be played gently in the background but needs some volume to it and listeners who are prepared to be challenged. This is not for those who want their music to be served to them neatly in a pigeonhole but is for those who want to be taken on sonic adventures where everything is possible. - Kev Rowland, PROG ARCHIVES http://www.progarchives.com/