98CD - Martin Pyne - Spirits Of Absent Dancers
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The majority of my professional life is spent working with dance: it’s something I love deeply, in all its many forms, and I remain in constant awe of the dedication of dancers. When the 2020 lockdown kicked in, I felt the loss of the time usually spent in dance studios very keenly.
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.
The music begins with a simple theme (played on Japanese temple bowls and toy piano) which featured in a ballet score I made for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company for a tour in 2019. The pieces that follow include seven vibraphone solos, effectively variations on that original theme, and ten other percussion pieces, all played sitting at a small drum kit (though they don’t all sound like that). The sequence closes with a return to the toy piano.
I’ve named the vibraphone pieces using various words for spells or enchantments, and the other pieces after words for spirits or ghosts. Much of the music is very quiet and mysterious but there are plenty of more energetic and playful episodes.
This album is dedicated to all the dancers I have played music for, but in particular to Sue Booker, Leesa Philips, and Buddy Watkins who many years ago helped a young musician figure out what the hell he was meant to be doing in a dance studio.
Martin Pyne - vibraphone, percussion
DANCE is central to vibraphonist and percussionist Martin Pyne’s varied professional career. So when, in 2020, musicians’ and artists’ livelihoods were challenged and even threatened as the Coronavirus pandemic forced them to ‘leave the stage’, Martin’s greatest sense of creative loss was in being unable to collaborate with dancers and choreographers, of whose dedication he remains in constant awe.
Recorded live in his home studio (‘GS1’, to BBC radio listeners), he worked intensively, in real time, as ‘a single accompanist’: “I imagined 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”. The majority of the sounds come from varied percussion and a small drum kit that’s mostly played with hands and feet (titled after spirits or ghosts), while seven vibraphone solos (named as spells or enchantments) provide a fluid, mystical thread.
From the wings, like a shadowy Satie ‘Gnossiene’, enters the toy-piano and temple-bowl tune of Summoning, part of a ballet score created for choreographer Mikaela Polley and Images Ballet Company. This provides the theme for the interspersed vibraphone variations such as Conjure, whose gossamer play might be imagined as fireflies in the twilight, and the sustained bowing and slow decays of Charm, suggesting nocturnal stillness. The more agile ‘spirits’ are just as entrancing, just a subtle hand clap amongst the toms and cymbals of Presence adding lovely detail; and Banshee’s fidgety, stop-start pats and tinkles feel quietly mischievous.
Discovering where Pyne’s explorations next turn is part of a magic which never wanes. Eidolon’s offbeat hi-hat pulse is addictive amongst its round-the-kit animation, and there‘s a resonance of gamelan in Ikiryo, prominently voiced by a delightful, tuned, wooden tongue drum acoustically sounded with hollow tubes. Vibraphone solo Hexing is mesmerically fleet and almost uncatchable, as is wispy Hocus Pocus, while impetuous tambourine interlude Spook might easily be an authentic medieval estampie. There’s a strong semblance of swing in the energetically brushed flams of Sprite, where pauses and interrupted rhythms create almost humorous anticipation (pity the dancer, there!). Even the bluesy chime of final vibes solo Enchantment might find a placid connection with the ‘MJ’ (Milt Jackson) of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
While dominantly percussive, this is eloquent music (which, Pyne says, couldn’t exist without jazz or other genres) – music for dance studio, theatre or quiet contemplation. Find the space to be transported by its array of improvised timbres, rhythms and moods, even imagining the usual interaction with colourful, gyrating shapes (see the video links on Bandcamp). Created out of adversity and artistic longing, this is a wondrous, evocative diversion. – Adrian Pallant, AP REVIEWS