Most of the time, Pete Judge is a trumpeter. He’s based in Bristol and plays in three interesting bands: the quartet Get the Blessing, the trio Three Cane Whale and the duo Eyebrow, whose records I’m particularly fond of. He’s just released his second album of solo piano pieces, Piano 2. Here’s what he said in the brief liner note to its predecessor, a couple of years ago:
I come from a long line of piano players, though I’m not really one myself, having rebelled at an early age and inexplicably chosen the trumpet instead, but my favourite piece of furniture in my grandmother’s house was always the old upright piano in the front room, which later became my mum’s piano, and lived with her on the North Kent coast. Now it’s in Bristol, and these tunes were all composed on it, with the soft pedal permanently applied (initially for neighbourly reasons, and now just because that’s the sound that suits them). So this is a ‘piano’ album in both senses of the term.
Piano and Piano 2 were both recorded in St George’s, Bristol, a deconsecrated 1820s church reopened a few years ago as a concert space. I liked the first volume, but the second one I love.
It consists of 16 pieces, ranging in length between one and five minutes. Titles include “Darkening Hills”, “Wheatfield With Crows” and “Gurney’s Oak”. If you took that to suggest a rather literal English pastoralism, you’d be wrong. The music is non-generic — it’s not jazz, it’s not classical. It’s sturdy but also delicate. It’s melodic and austere at the same time. It’s inviting but not ingratiating. It takes its time. It’s not virtuosic at all, although Judge has a lovely touch. It’s satisfyingly well proportioned but not predictable. It’s quietly but firmly unsentimental. It has lots of things inside it — hymns, folk songs — but they’re metabolised so completely that the components aren’t visible.
I haven’t felt so close to a solo piano record since Keith Jarrett’s The Melody at Night, With You, the one he made when he was recovering from illness and wasn’t afraid to show his vulnerability. Piano 2 has a similar honesty. It’s not trying to wig you out or teach you something. It’s just there, like a friend. And at the moment it feels like the perfect music for the times we’re living through.
* The photograph of Pete Judge recording at St George’s is by Tim Allen. You can find Piano 2 on Bandcamp: https://petejudge.bandcamp.com/