CD Review: Mike De Souza, Chrysalis

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November 2023 saw the release of “Chrysalis,” a captivating and inventive follow-up to guitarist and composer Mike De Souza’s debut album, “Slow Burn” (2019).

This latest endeavor incorporates the talents of De Souza’s longstanding collaborators Jay Davis (drums) and Huw V Williams (bass), complemented by the addition of Alec Harper (tenor sax) and Rupert Cox (piano/synth). Together, they form a quintet that embarks on a sonic journey through extended guitar-led compositions, expertly navigating a diverse range of musical moods and landscapes, enriched by the captivating and virtuosic improvisations of some of London’s most esteemed musicians.

Hailing from Hertfordshire (UK),Mike De Souza, embarked on his journey in music at the age of 12, igniting a lifelong passion for music. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in 2014, Mike has become a prominent figure in the UK jazz scene, completing multiple tours, gracing international festivals in Krakow, Graz, and Northern Spain, and earning a regular spot at prestigious jazz clubs like Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express. Since his move to London in 2012, he has collaborated with renowned musicians such as Martin Speake and Byron Wallen, leaving his mark on notable recordings as a side-man. As a leader, Mike has released three recordings to date, including the EP ‘Road Fork’ (2018) and the debut album ‘Slow Burn’ (2019). This, his latest album, showcases his evolution as an artist, symbolizing a transformative emergence from a state of isolation, akin to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis state.

“Chrysalis” comprises six long-form compositions, where solo passages seamlessly connect composed sections. Each soloist breathes life into the music, allowing the narrative to unfold and evolve organically. The title track, anchored by a repeating 8-bar ostinato, creates an almost hypnotic foundation. Musical variations unfold, echoing the imagery of the chrysalis state and its transformative process.

In contrast, “Headbanger Blissout” is a dynamic and invigorating track, pulsating with driving energy. The use of overdriven guitar, synth pads, octave piano hooks, and power-chord riffs gives it the feel of a heavily produced rock track, yet the performance is captured almost entirely live in a single take. Similarly, the folk-rock-inspired “Looking Up” is a dynamic, laid-back ballad featuring Fender Rhodes Piano and an improvised synth solo by Rupert Cox. The exploration of melodic loops at varying speeds and timbres creates a hypnotic effect.


The meditative and subtle opener, “Clementine Clouds,” employs warm synth patches and showcases a mesmerizing solo from pianist Rupert Cox. The sax solo at the end, supported by Mike’s ethereal and sustaining chords created with a ‘freeze pedal,’ adds an extra layer of depth. The album’s longest track, “Gently Wake,” reveals the developing musical chemistry between Mike’s guitar and Alec Harper’s distinctive, melodic saxophone sound.

The guitar-featured “Paper Plane Pilot” introduces a polyrhythmic effect inspired by guitarist Reinier Baas. Mike’s unique guitar pyrotechnics, reminiscent of Stanley Jordan’s ‘touch’ technique, create wide-ranging, cascading runs and harmonized riffs achieved through 2-handed hammer-on techniques.

“Chrysalis” is a study in contrast, weaving fierce moments of high energy with introspective periods of calm and impressionistic beauty. Multiple melodic layers and a juxtaposition between acoustic and electronic sounds take the listener on a journey through various moods and musical landscapes. The album invites the audience to find their own meaning in the uniquely improvised moments captured between these five exceptional musicians.

Track Listing:
1. Clementine Clouds | 2. Looking Up | 3. Gently Wake | 4. Paper Plane Pilot | 5. Chrysalis | 6. Headbanger Blissout

Mike De Souza – electric guitar | Alec Harper – tenor saxophone | Rupert Cox – piano, synths | Huw Williams – double bass | Jay Davis – drums

Release Date: 3 November
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Fresh Sounds New Talent

Last modified: December 14, 2023