To everyone but the most dedicated of anoraks, the work of a session musician will often go unnoticed, under-appreciated or at worst, attributed to the singular genius of the artist whose name appears on the sleeve.
They are the special forces of the recording world, drilled to a tee and deployed at a moment’s notice to save ailing album projects or help ensure the rise of the next star or starlet, and once you lift the lid it can be genuinely surprising how many hits can be attributed to single instrumentalists or groups of players.
Lewis Daniel, whose debut solo effort States of Being dropped earlier this month, is one of the few who have stepped out from behind the curtain to release their own creative endeavours. Working previously as a session musician and arranger with The House Gospel Choir, Rachel Kerr and Boadi, Lewis has been plugging away in the capital for some time, pushing the revival of British Neo-Soul and Gospel with his smooth and soulful brass accompaniments.
Yet, while States of Mind certainly touches on his previous work, there’s a sense that Daniel has a lot more to say directing his own show.
Clearly influenced by the Robert Glasper school of hip-hop fusion and Neo-Soul, the opening salvo of “Intro” and “Greif” deliver rich and woozy jazz arrangements that transport the listener to sepia-tone jam sessions, with “Grief” in particular showing off Daniel’s arrangement chops while building into a Snarky Puppy-esque freak out with waxing strings and staccato brass hits.
Throughout the entirety of the six-track release, Lewis continues to display an incredibly broad approach in its conception, throwing together many disparate influences and coming out with some incredibly arresting compositions that continuously defy the listener’s expectations.
“Why Me” throws together a wobbly synth bass line with a steel drum (a nod to Daniel’s Caribbean heritage) and a G-funk lead seemingly just for fun while “Overwhelmed” brings a little South London grit, with guest vocalist Maurice Makola’s verse breaking up the heady, Miles Davis swoon of the solo sections.
“Endurance” again refuses to be pigeon-holed, somehow bridging the gap between Roy Hargrove and circa 2003 Artwork with it’s complexly woven brass/string combo contrasting against the stark and aggressive synth-bass, while “Bliss” ups the tempo, with a standout vocal performance from Kersha Bailey framed with some of the best string writing of the whole project.
What’s apparent from the very first listen of States of Being is the mind-bending creativity on offer across every single track. At no point is it possible to predict the next tangent that the winding arrangements might take and it makes for exhilarating listening.
It’s also clear how much fun was had recording the project, and each track pops and fizzles with an infectious energy that makes you want to put down whatever you’re doing and just listen. Isn’t that the highest praise of all?