NINE MONTHS IN THE HUT
So here we are at the turning of the year. 2020 has been such a strange time for everyone of course, but I thought I’d put a few personal reflections here. Live music and performing arts stopped suddenly back in March, and have not returned in any meaningful sense yet. Right now it looks like it could still be a while. From April on it was inspiring to see so many artists of all kinds respond to the situation in a positive way, finding ways to make and share work. I felt a strong sense of the broad artistic community pulling together in a really supportive way. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been comfortable with solitude. The summer lockdown offered me an opportunity for a lot of reading, discovering albums old and new, and plenty of time for contemplation. I won’t pretend that I haven’t as well felt my share of anxiety in recent times. What I found that I missed most was, not surprisingly, being in the studio with dancers. So when Yorke Dance Project got in touch asking me to work with them online it was a very big deal. Playing for the company has got me through psychologically, and provided me with some income when everything else stopped.
One crucial factor this year has been the immense good fortune to have a space at home to work on music. A short while ago we were able to get a cabin, known here as “The Hut”, put up at the end of our little garden and it really came into it’s own this year. It really has become “A room of one’s own” if you will. I’ve spent hours and hours in there. I’ve played for innumerable dance classes, I’ve recorded my solo album (see below), and I’ve been recently working on an online trio collaboration with Charlotte Keefe and Martin Archer. On top of that it has served as a BBC Radio Studio every Sunday when my wife, Sarah Walker, has broadcast her show from there live. It was, however, lovely in the summer to escape to a recording studio for a couple of days and record a soundtrack, with Stephen Horne for the 1924 Silent Film, The Signal Tower for a forthcoming DVD release.
I’ve managed to release three albums this year – unprecedented for me. Two were recorded and ready to go in March -“Haunted Carbonek”, a selection of the piano pieces I’ve written for Sarah over the years, and “Rickety Racket” , an album by a new quartet (Marianne Windham, Russell Jarrett, Philippe Guyard and myself) playing a set of my more straight ahead jazz compositions. And then I made “Spirits Of Absent Dancers” which feels very important to me, though it was completely unplanned. I’m hugely grateful that they’ve had such a great reception from critics and listeners.
Here’s hoping that the night really is darkest just before the dawn and that 2021 sees live music, dance and performing arts start to return to all our lives.
SPIRITS OF ABSENT DANCERS –
A VERY PERSONAL MUSICAL STATEMENT
My new solo album is just out on Discus Music. Right now this feels like possibly the most important record I’ve made, and the strange thing it wasn’t planned way in advance. It happened quite spontaneously, and naturally and came together quickly in a month or so of focused work. It is very much a product of Lockdown. Like all musicians I know I was missing gigs, but for me the really big loss was the hours I usually spend several days a week working with dancers. Dance has been the focus of my work as a professional musician for nearly all of my career – I love it, in all its many forms. I also remain in constant awe of the dedication and artistry of dancers themselves – its quite humbling to be honest, and I’ve learnt so much about being an artist from them – the ongoing process of reflection and refinement, the fine balance of confidence and humility, and the fact that you need to fall over to learn and grow. That last one seems very useful to me for improvising musicians, and as a result, when I get to teach I often find myself telling students “if you don’t make any mistakes you’re not doing it right”.
Anyway, around the end of April an image came to my mind : I found myself imagining a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in an attempt to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness. I set about creating a sequence of music based around this idea, and ended up with this set of nineteen largely improvised short pieces. There are eight vibraphone solos and nine pieces played sitting at a small drum kit, often with various instruments placed on the drums. It’s all framed by two toy piano pieces – which refer to a score I made for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company in 2019. (The album cover photos were taken while touring with them). The vibraphone pieces are titled with words for spells or enchantments, while the other pieces are named with various words for spirits and ghosts. As I was playing, each piece was in fact not a solo, but a duet with a dancer in my head. The album as a whole is dedicated to all the dancers I’ve ever played music before, and there are also some specific personal dedications to people who have helped along my way.
The music was all recorded in the little wooden studio space we have at the bottom of our garden. I then sent it to the wonderful musician and engineer David Beebee who did a lovely sensitive job mixing.
During the process the wonderful dance company Yorke Dance Project called me and we figured out a way of playing company class online, everyone scattered. The first one was very emotional for me I have to say. They have thrown their support behind this project and have been filming a number of dance films using music from the album. I’m looking forward to sharing those soon. I also have to thank of course Martin Archer of Discus Music for enabling me to bring this music to the world in such a wonderful package.
Please have a listen to the album if you have a moment – you can find it here
MEANING EVERY NOTE
Thanks for taking the time to visit my new website. I’m launching this after three months of lockdown due to the Corona Virus Pandemic of 2020. The enforced freeing up of time has led to a rather accelerated rate of releases of my recorded work. Early in lockdown I decided to bring forward the release of two sets of music by putting them out on Bandcamp. The first was Haunted Carbonek a selection of the through composed piano music I’ve written over the years, performed by Sarah Walker. So basically a contemporary classical album. A few days later I released Rickety Racket, an album of some of my more straight ahead jazz compositions played by a new quartet, Philippe Guyard, Russell Jarrett, Marianne Windham and myself. Looking back over the previous eighteen months I have released Taxonomies by MPH, a free improv album, and also an EP of the songs I have been co-writing with Laura Zakian, Minor Moments. It struck me , thinking about all this music, that the range of it might be confusing to some. What I can assure you though is that they are all honest musical statements, using the musical means most suited to what I needed to say. Honesty in music making, and art I general, is what I value most of all, and by this I mean striving to make the music I want to make, not the music I or anyone else think I ought to make. It’s a real relief to have reached this position. As a young musician I often felt a pressure to choose a camp. To be free of those concerns feels good, and I can truthfully say about all my recent work, to paraphrase the great bassist Ron Carter, I meant every note. You can check out all those recordings by clicking the images on the albums page.
And now I’m looking forward to releasing some more new music – a solo percussion improv concept album if you will, reflecting how much I’ve missed not being able to work with dancers. I recorded the music in May, and I’m delighted to say that it will be released in September on the fantastic Discus Music label. Look out for it: Spirits of Absent Dancers.