Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist Bill Wells and virtuoso tuba player Danielle Price once more team up for Karaoke Kalk under the name The Sensory Illusions. The two further explore the affinities between their idiosyncratic musical approaches across a variety of styles and genres while also expanding their sound palette. After its predecessor saw Wells working strictly with his electric guitar, on the »Sensory Illusions II« the piano enters the mix on two of the eleven pieces. Much like his brass-heavy collaboration album »Osaka Bridge« with Japanese collective Maher Shalal Hash Baz—made available again on vinyl by the German label Karaoke Kalk in February 2023—this album injects melancholic atmospheres with a sense of playfulness. Picking up on elements from jazz, pop, blues, and classic songwriting while acknowledging their debt to techniques from the worlds of avant-garde and improv music, The Sensory Illusions weave together disparate elements into a colourful, imaginative suite of songs.
Starting with the folky chords of opener »Four Chord Dream,« the track titles spell out Wells' characteristic use of ideas that literally come to him in his sleep (the project was even named after a record he found while browsing a store in a dream). The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland leader then fleshes them out together with Price, who again serves as a one-woman rhythm section, as she does throughout most of the album. When Wells enters 1960s spy movie territory with a swirling rendition of John Barry's »Theme from Vendetta« and picks up on those dynamics with a rolling riff in the next song, her versatile playing provides the backdrop for that. Once Wells sits down at the piano for the tender »Flotsam Bodes,« however, their roles are being reversed and Price—a seasoned and multifaceted musician who was one of only six applicants chosen to attend Chilly Gonzales' Gonzervatory in 2019 and who is currently working with acclaimed London-based trumpet player and composer Laura Jurd—takes the lead. »I'm the Urban Spaceman« makes it even more apparent how seamlessly these two experienced players leave each other space to showcase their respective talent and expand on their individual ideas: Marked by Wells' soloing and exploring different sonic possibilities of the guitar, it also sees Price showcasing her reduced yet agile solos before they both return to the idea at the heart of the song.
It is precisely those ideas that guide the duo's way through the individual pieces, but their sometimes widely different approaches yield very distinct results. While working with the piano once more on »Mr. Sophie« results in a fuller and more anthemic sound, they opt for a more restrained, melancholic one the album closer »Desk Aunt«. It is precisely these kinds of variations in mood and tone that underscore how these two musicians are perfectly attuned to each other. As the second duo record in their six years of working together, »The Sensory Illusions II« proves once more how much musical ground they are able to cover with their instruments and open minds alone.