Greg Foat & Ayo Salawu :: Interstellar Fantasy

Space used to swing. Not so much anymore. Nowadays, space conjures futility. Or indifference. Or incomprehensible horror. Or the same dreary, terrestrial processes of resource extraction simply shot out among the stars. But space used to be sexy: everything sleek and form-fitting and gleaming in polished chrome and raygun fluorescent. It once belonged to our fantasies about leisure, rather than our anxieties about survival.

If there is one person I trust to recover the lost erotics of the solar system, it is Greg Foat. The insanely prolific career of the UK keyboardist and composer has long orbited around the twin stars of space and sex. Foat’s group was once the house band at the Playboy Club in London. And he pseudonymously published a novel about a working jazz musician who moonlights as a high-end male escort. Meanwhile, he has released a slew of killer albums of pulsing, intergalactic jazz with science fiction titles like The Dancers at the Edge of Time and Galaxies Like Grains of Sand. Foat’s latest record (his fourth album in 2023, if you are counting) is a collaboration with Ayo Salawu, percussionist for the equally fantastic London jazz and Afrobeat troupe Kokoroko. They’ve named the album Interstellar Fantasy, just in case you had any doubts about whether they were up to the task.

Commissioned by the giant German production music powerhouse Sonoton, Interstellar Fantasy hearkens back to the ultra-groovy, synthesizer-drenched library music of the 1970s. This is, of course, Foat’s wheelhouse. And here he wields an arsenal of Korgs and Rolands and Ensoniq synthesizers to lend a retro-futurism to jams that might otherwise score vintage pornography. Foat’s playing is always lush. But here it is Salawu’s funky, nimble drumwork that keeps the flying saucer humming. Listen to Foat’s drunken, twinkling synths on the opening title track shamble over Salawu’s crashing cymbals. On the epic album standout, “Journey to Arcturus,” Foat’s proggy sequencer wash flows over Salawu’s extra-tight rhythms. The airy, elegant “Solar Pirates” is the cocktail jazz of the future, and “Mines of Andromeda” is downright seductive. The breezy, languorous “Stasis Loop” is similarly tropical. The grooves mostly keep to the mid-tempo, insinuating a pickup line.

Like his American counterpart John Carroll Kirby, Foat stands at the vanguard of what we might call pulp jazz, a sound comprised of softcore jazz-funk and B-movie library music grooves, heady prog interludes and new age zone-outs—but designed, above all, for pleasure. This isn’t the insurrectionary transcendentalism of spiritual jazz. It is erogenous music, intended to move human bodies. Here, Foat and Salawu take what might have been a paperback sci-fi goof and come up with an album of simmering come-ons. That they happen to be floating in space doesn’t make them any less corporeal. | b sirota

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