When I first received Edo Castro’s album Phoenix for review purposes, two things about it set me on guard immediately: first, the image of a 9-string bass on the cover (I mean, who on earth needs these things?) and second, the inclusion of that awful and omnipresent tune, Amazing Grace. Well, that was then. Phoenix is a near-completely beautiful, exquisitely crafted album.

Castro is much more concerned with mood and texture, not to mention melody, than with extroverted, chops-flashing bravado. Case in point: who would even think of covering Ralph Towner’s breathtaking composition Beneath an Evening Sky? Castro does it full justice, with the elegant fretless melody set against a chordal backdrop, rendering the complex time signature of the piece almost unnoticeable.

Bone Dreams adds pedal steel guitar (Rob Powell) and tabla (Debropriyo Sarkar) for texture, and Song for the Electric Whales is a moving (and sonically accurate!) tribute to these magnificent creatures. The blues-based Blue Asia features like-minded Mark Egan on fretless 8-string bass, apart from Castro himself. Chance of Rain reprises the ambience of the second selection, and the title track is the only real ensemble piece here: it contains few surprises but is a pleasant track nonetheless. The Native American flutes of Blue constitute the featured instrument on two evocative tracks (indeed, the sole instrument on the 9-minute-plus ¦ Part 2; how is that for unselfishness on the part of the bassist?), and Rise is the Methenyesque album closer, with Castro on nimble fretless.

So, what about Amazing Grace, then? It begins promisingly, with Castro reharmonising this trite tune. But then the voices come in, and everything goes downhill from here. To me (as someone with a profoundly atheistic worldview), the lyrics have always been simple-minded, and while Castro’s changes here should be noted, the vocal acrobatics further propel this piece into the abyss of the eminently skippable, unconnected as it is from the rest of the CD. However, this is the only blemish on an album that is otherwise a veritable gem.