Acoustic Alchemy does not release albums very often. The release of 33 1/3 in 2018 was an event, and the new work made it to the Top Ten of Billboard’s Jazz Album charts. The delay was the result of some personal issues and also the belief that you only write an album when you have something to say. “We’re quite lucky in that respect,” says the band’s Miles Gilderdale. “We don’t have a record label breathing down our necks, telling us we need to put out something every year.” Adds Greg Carmichael, “For us, the only time we even consider going into the studio is when we have some material that we really believe in.”
Acoustic Alchemy has never accepted a place in one genre. The boundary-pushing instrumental group has been challenging audiences for nearly four decades with its blend of jazz, classical, flamenco and other world music, rock and New Age. The group has received three Grammy nominations and has developed a reputation as one of the most exciting live bands around. Their mission? Reaching the broadest audience by taking the potential of instrumental music as far as they can.
For the last decade or so, the band lineup has been made up of Greg Carmichael on nylon guitar, Miles Gilderdale on steel string acoustic and electric guitars, Fred White on keyboards and a powerful rhythm section featuring Greg Grainger on drums and his brother Gary on bass. “The band has changed a lot over the years, different personnel, different eras, different influences, but we always somehow make it sound like Acoustic Alchemy,” Gilderdale said. “I think every band tries to do that, to make something that’s new and interesting, but the fans still hear it and go, ‘that’s them!’”
Acoustic Alchemy began in London in 1981 by guitarist Nick Webb and nylon guitarist Simon James. Webb had studied jazz at Leeds College of Music in England. When the two parted ways, Webb joined with Greg Carmichael, a classically trained guitarist, and the duo found work with Virgin Airlines, providing in-flight music on trans-Atlantic flights. They sent a demo to MCA and six weeks later were signed to a contract. Their first album, Red Dust and Spanish Lace, was released in 1987 and they went on to release several more albums with MCA. In 1990, the duo signed with jazz label GRP and the album, Reference Point, earned them their first Grammy nod for Best New Age Performance for the track “Caravan of Dreams." Five more albums followed, including 1996’s Arcanum, which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best New Age Album.
Webb died in 1998 and Carmichael revamped the band, bringing in Gilderdale and White. Their album Art was released in 2001 and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album. In 2011, the band celebrated its 30th anniversary with Roseland, which reached No. 6 on the jazz albums chart and was followed by the success of 33 1/3. The band had been recognized in a variety of genres, doing exactly what they had set out to do.
Throughout its creative life, the band has defied categorization. In an interview, Carmichael described why the name Acoustic Alchemy fits the band. “It’s a good name,” he said. “It says we’re acoustic, although we’re not strictly now because you couldn’t be heard. In essence, though, the identity is two acoustic guitars. Acoustic Alchemy is not about a person, it’s about a band. Alchemy means a blend, a combination of lots of different styles. Alchemy suits us. It implies a magical blend.”
This “G Force” of Greg Carmichael, Gilderdale, Grainger, Grainger (and White) has been defying gravity for years. Come along for the ride.