“In Amazonia”, Gouveia, IB

Next Saturday (5th May) I’ll find myself once more at the Gouveia Art Rock festival. I’ve previously performed there in many guises – solo, in duos (with Stuart Gordon and Gary Lucas) and, of course, with VdGG. This time will be something else: first I’ll be playing solo (only on piano this time) and then combining with the (mainly) Swedish band Isildurs Bane to perform the whole of the new album “In Amazonia” on which we’ve recently collaborated.

It was at Gouveia, many years ago, that I first became aware of IB. Thomas Olssen, the musicologist who regularly hosts a morning discussion session at the festival (in which I’ve been a participant a couple of times) is also deeply involved in the work of IB. He proposed that I consider taking part in one of their IB Expo weeks.

For those who don’t know, these are high-octane events in which IB invite musicians to join them for a week of rehearsals and collaborations, all leading up to a one-off performance. This is not recorded for posterity or for any commercial release, so there’s very much the sense of approach-to-a-goal, once and once only about the thing. Everyone involved is definitely put on their mettle and evidently there’s no safety net.

From the outset I liked the idea and the intention of this venture but was somewhat reluctant to commit to anything for my own part. The quality of musicians involved has traditionally been stellar and of incredible accomplishment both technically and in improvisational skill. That’s not quite where I see my own strengths, of course. So I suspected that I wasn’t quite going to be the man for the job.

Nonetheless, Thomas returned to his task of persuasion on at least a couple of other times when we met up at Gouveia and finally I decided to take the plunge for the 2017 event. My fellow guests for this were Tim Bowness and the koto player Karin Nakagawa. Her presence meant that we were able to perform the Ayuo Takahashi piece “Song for Fallen Blossoms”, along with other more usual (though in unusual configurations) songs. It didn’t come as a complete surprise to me that the whole show was exciting, challenging and invigorating in equal measure and I was very glad indeed to have taken part.

At some time in 2018 Thomas got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in continuing to collaborate, this time on a recording project. I’m actually quite open to the idea of doing outside work, especially if it’s some way away from my usual areas so – with, of course, the condition that nothing was an absolute given or certainty on either side until it was all done – I agreed to have a go. The files for the first song duly arrived and I began looking for that spots where I could fit in.

I think there were some original suggestions for the moments in time where singing could be imagined but there was nothing more than that in terms of direction. Well, obviously I managed to find some lines which worked for me and which I thought fitted in with the piece. With some trepidation I sent these off and waited for the reaction….

Happily this was extremely positive. What I’d done was, perhaps, somewhat unexpected and in turn led to some re-editing of the original score, to allow for the repetition of some vocal lines. And so we had the first piece.

Then a second one arrived, and so on until in the end our collaboration extended over five songs and an entire album (bar a final instrumental recapitulation of some themes at the end). Of course, it’s been an unusual writing process, working from the inside out and never quite sure what the ultimate destination was going to be. From my own point of view, in itself this produced a loose linkage, some narrative and musical connection between the pieces. Naturally, since the stuff isn’t structurally based on my own architecture, it’s also a long way from any (musical) norms of my own, so I think I’ve come up with something quite unusual.

Anyway, here it is and I think it’s very good stuff. Cinematic, wide-screen and afloat on a surging current. The instrumentation is broad palette: in addition to bass, gtr, kbds there are multitudes of percussion, trumpets, violin and a major role for Karin’s koto. Thus there’s a direct connection between this and our Expo week in 2017…and, indeed, a coherent line going all the way back to those conversations over breakfast with Thomas in Gouveia.

Doing it live will, of course, be , er, something of a challenge, but it’s one which I think everyone is up for and fully committed to…. Up, up and away!

The album itself will be out on May 10th and we’re now taking orders over at http://www.sofasound.com