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Songs for his father

The drummer Sebastian Rochford is one of the ten children of the poet Gerard Rochford, who died in 2019, aged 87. In memory of his father, Seb sat down at his grandfather’s piano in his childhood home in Aberdeen and composed seven short piano pieces, adding an eighth written by his father, and then recorded them with his friend Kit Downes playing the piano and Seb himself occasionally adding a discreet commentary from the drum kit. The resulting album, titled A Short Diary, is the son’s remembrance of his father, a gathering of thoughts and feelings.

Unsurprisingly, the result can feel like a distillation of songs and perhaps hymns heard in childhood, filtered through retrospection and lamentation while quietly radiating a sense of joy and gratitude. The music is spare but not austere, simple yet profound, elegiac but never passive, drifting but not diffuse, melodic but not banal. Sometimes the sounds seem muffled, like the drums in a funeral parade, while clear in tone and articulation; at other times the overtones hang in the air, curling like smoke. ECM’s Manfred Eicher mixed the results, bringing the music — as Seb puts it — into focus, using his studio tools to make the piano sound like itself, allowing its natural resonance to sing out.

The eighth piece, “Even Now I Think of Her”, was initially recorded by Gerard Rochford on his phone and sent to his son, who gave it to Downes. It’s a thing of exquisite beauty, the lovely melody and its gentle harmonic underpinning held aloft by a gentle rustling of brushes and cymbals.

Seb is best known for his work with Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Sons of Kemet, Adele, Leafcutter John, Brian Eno, Ingrid Laubrock, Damon Albarn and many others. He is a virtuoso. The virtuosity on show here, however, is not of technique but of something deeper and more valuable: the ability to take the deepest, most personal feelings and turn them into wordless music in which everyone can share. This is music without rhetoric or ostentation, in which delicacy and strength find an ideal balance. A quiet masterpiece, I think.

* The photograph of Sebastian Rochford is by Rosie Reed Gold. A Short Diary is released on ECM on January 20.

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