Toby Hay

Toby Hay : The Longest Day

You can tell from the opening, plangent guitar notes of the first (and title) track that The Longest Day is something special.

The album was recorded live over four days. It sparkles, shimmies and shimmers just like its lauded predecessor, The Gathering, but an evident new jazz influence allows even richer emotional textures than before. This second instrumental album also draws its inspiration from a wider range than last year's debut, which focused on Hay's immediate surroundings; here the songs are drawn from themes of travel, home and loss.

After the opening track slowly unfurls as a meditation on living in the present moment, there is the swoop and spark of Bears Dance, followed by a couple of US themed compositions - Leaving Chicago and Marvin the Mustang, the former with an upbeat mood driven by train-shuffle percussion and accentuated by smooth saxophone.

As Mayfair at Rhayader 1927 arguably was for The Gathering, the keystone for The Longest Day is Late Summer in Boscastle. This piece starts with a few moments of tense cacophony before becoming a languid, jazz-inflected flow. It's path marked out by refined percussion, over seven dazzling minutes Late Summer in Boscastle evokes the slowing of pace when summer tourists leave a seaside town to its natural autumn rhythms, and the sense of calm such a place can instill when at rest itself.

Spurred by loss, Curlew (part i) is then sadder and darker than what precedes, but builds into a magnificent, sorrowful procession - followed by Curlew (part ii), which is subdued and intimate before developing along a hopeful and redemptive path.

At the Bright Hem of God is a final, pensive instrumental that shifts and drifts like mist.

This is a superb next chapter in Hay's book of brilliant things, and the prowess of the band supporting his expressive 12 string playing - Aidan Thorne (double bass), Mark O'Connor (drums), Greg Sterland (saxophone) and David Grubb (violin) - creates more than a notch or two of the additional depth and radiance.

He was always a technically gifted and fluid musician, but run through all Toby Hay's EPs and albums in release date order, starting with 2012's Guitar I (the stairwell sessions), and you hear an impressive progression. Undoubtedly The Longest Day is his finest recording yet - a joyful and vivid album. I recently went birdwatching at dawn in an old Victorian garden; with the world shut out, concentrating only on what I could see and hear, it was an experience full of breathtaking, stilling moments. Listen to The Longest Day undisturbed and you should find the same contemplative peace, without needing to buy binoculars.

TOBY HAY I The Longest Day