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Posts tagged ‘Pete Judge’

Piano music

PJ piano St Georges 1

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/

Raising an Eyebrow

EyebrowMostly just trumpet and drums, with the occasional wash of electronics, Eyebrow’s Garden City is one of the most beguiling records I’ve heard in ages. I should imagine that anyone who loves the work of Jon Hassell (particularly the classic Fourth World Vol 1: Possible Musics album with Brian Eno) or Arve Henriksen’s series of solo albums on the Rune Grammofon label will respond to what this Bristol-based duo are up to: a music of substance and elegance that slips easily between foreground and background, unassuming in its surfaces but best rewarding the closest attention.

They were formed in 2009, and this is their fourth album. Pete Judge, the trumpeter, also plays with the excellent quartet Get the Blessing, while Paul Wigens, the drummer, has a CV including spells with Blurt, Natacha Atlas, Viv Albertine, Damo Suzuki and Gary Lucas. On a couple of tracks they’re joined by the bassist/guitarist Jim Barr, another member of Get the Blessing (and of Portishead’s live band).

The format is simple: Wigens sets up an uncluttered, cleanly articulated and sometimes deceptively straightforward basic groove — using not much more than snare and bass drum and hi-hat, occasionally a tom-tom or two — over which Judge moves between written themes and the kind of improvisation that feels as though it grows directly out of the material, with subtle use of mutes and treatments. Barr makes it a three-way conversation with a lightly distorted baritone guitar on one track, “Blind Summit”, and adds a discreet baseline to another, “Scrim”.

On “Thaw”, for example, at 13 minutes the longest piece of the set, a soft electronically-generated background figure runs in and out of phase with Wigens’s slip-sliding pattern, while Judge plays long tones that are eventually expanded by echo or superimposition. Two-thirds of the way through there are a few moments of understated drama when the drummer drops out, allowing the trumpet to soar and resound as if under a cathedral dome.

This is music of quiet imagination and intimate beauty, spare and discreet without being forbiddingly austere, and recorded with fine clarity and presence. It’s on the ninety&nine label (www.ninetyandninerecords.com), and you’ll find a few samples of the music on the band’s own website here. I hope a lot of people get to enjoy it.

* The photograph of Paul Wigens and Pete Judge was taken by Mark Taylor in Arnos Vale Chapel, Bristol.