Sometimes music is more than, well, the sum of its parts. It has the power to stir memories, to conjure images and to engage beyond our aural senses. At its best and boldest, it can do all this without any lyrical adornment. Music has the ability to paint a picture and provokes emotions in a way that words are too often unable.
Liverpool songwriter John Jenkins‘ new instrumental project, Midnight in Manhattan, is striking in its confident ambition. His EP, Travelogue, feels not so much a reportage on a trip undertaken but an invitation to share the journey.
Opening song Midnight in Manhattan is a seductively beautiful and measured evocation of Manhattan. From the opening bars you are transported to a late night jazz bar: you can almost feel the sultry warmth, taste the suffocating humidity and smell the ink-blue eye-stinging smoky haze.
That said, perhaps it looks towards a New York that doesn’t really exist, that never existed. It presents a romantic image cultivated perhaps by the representations of the city in film and literature. We’re lazily thinking of the decadence of Gatsby and the hotel bar elegance of Mad Men. It’s the Manhattan you think of when you close your eyes but never come close to realising when you visit.
Perhaps the most interesting composition is the lengthier Travelogue. A journey through a myriad of artistic styles without ever sacrificing the poise and restraint that characterised the opener. Indeed Its melting pot of styles perhaps alludes to a less idealised view of Manhattan, one more grounded in real rather than sought-after experiences. In many ways it seems to represent through music a city of immigrants in which people have successfully forged a distinct identity through collective diversity
The piece brings with it a dollop of mystery as a gentle opening gives way to brooding electronica and an array of percussive delights while the jazz-inflected tones never feel too far away. With its shifting moods, changes in textures and its hints of unexplored exoticism it’s the one to which we’ll most likely return.
Europe is represented through the perfectly realised Parisian café mood music of Promenade before we are shuttled transatlantic with Evenings in Manhattan a gently swinging jazzy number underpinned by a subtle yet persistent beat. It is hopeful, optimistic and full to the brim in eager anticipation.
What separates this from the ordinary is its ability to conjure such vivid imagery and to awaken your senses. It bristles with an ardent humanity, capturing the sound and smells of a city full of life and vitality. It feels like a labour of love: a love of travel, new experiences and a celebration of human integration and music as a unifying force.