UK project The John Irvine Band have been around in some form or other for a bit over a decade now. From what I understand with few fixed elements in the band itself outside of main man John Irvine himself. “Psychopomp” is the fifth album to be issued under this band moniker, and was released through the label Head in the Door Records in the spring of 2022.
While this project started out as more of a purebred jazz-rock oriented band, according to the official biography, it is crystal clear that the boundaries have been expanded a bit in the eleven years The John Irvine Band have been a going concern. On this occasion with progressive rock as the dominant style orientation, while the jazzrock elements have more of a secondary and supporting role in the compositions.
This is an instrumental production, an orientation that does come with its own strengths and weaknesses obviously. It is easy to become either too meandering or too focused on constant alterations and changes when exploring the instrumental realm of music, especially in progressive rock and jazz circles, but this isn’t an album where these aspects are present to any noticeable degree. As a matter of fact, one of the key strengths of this production is the elegant and efficient manner in which the compositions explore an arrangement for a suitable amount of time before seamlessly moving to the next phase. Another strength showcased in many songs is the efficient use of ebb and flow between the different phases of the landscapes explored, with all changes being executed in an elegant manner, and a good amount of variation in how subtle or not these alterations are to boot. Excellent switches between the main lead instruments is another big plus factor here, with some songs focusing more on one individual instrument and others dividing the time in the limelight a bit more evenly. I was also left suitably impressed by the rhythm department throughout, with the drummer in particular doing a good job of increasing or decreasing the level of intensity in many core passages in a fine and compelling manner.
In terms of style orientation we are treated to a few different variations here. Some will for me at least be less stereotypical blends of jazzrock and progressive rock that I can’t really pigeonhole into any specific orientation as such, with at least one song resulting in this note from me when listening through the album: “Like a blend of 80’s King Crimson and Joe Satriani with a jazzrock undercurrent”. That some of the songs do have a little bit of a Crimsonian or Frippian touch to my ears is undeniable, but another important aspect here are the striking and elegant keyboard input, which for me at least give quite a few of the compositions a bit more of a symphonic progressive rock orientation.
All of this being said, ultimately the specific orientation of this production isn’t all that important, other than for people to read the descriptions and based on what they read then consider if they want to investigate the music or not. For my sake I note down “Psychopomp” as a solid, high quality specimen of instrumental progressive rock. An elegant and expressive production on all levels, with solid material throughout and a liberal amount of brilliant moments. If you have an affection for instrumental progressive rock, this is an album well worth investigating.
My rating: 90/100