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Martin Pyne - vibraphone, percussion
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's album is a poignant and eloquent link between two dynamic art forms, dance and jazz music, that have much in common. - Howard Lawes, Sandy Brown Jazz.
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
There is something very soothing about Spirits of Absent Dancers, a benevolent aura surrounding some of the more reverberant sounds of which you get quite a few on this unusual album, just solo vibes and percussion. It is not austere but instead achieves a deft balance in its array of bells, drums and vibes bathing in warmth and producing a certain tenderness and spiritual sound. The album feels as if it is populated by a host of musicians and not just one. - MARLBANK https://www.marlbank.net/posts/martin-pyne-spirits-of-absent-dancers
Across a series of 19 pieces, range from 1’30 to 4’41 (but averaging around the 3’ mark) Pyne reflects on the impact of covid-19 on music and dance. As he says in the liner notes, much of his life as a professional musician has been spent accompanying dancers and with lock-down this activity has paused. “I found myself imagining a lone musician in a deserted theatre, like a kind of medicine man, throwing sounds into the space in attempt to conjure up ghosts of dancers no longer present…” The titles of the pieces reflect this with variations on magical incantations or practice (‘Summoning’, ‘Conjure’, ‘Charm’, ‘Hexing’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, ‘Bewitch’, ‘Enchantment’) and the summoned spirits (‘Presence’, ‘Umbra’, ‘Banshee’,’ Visitant’, ‘Wraith’, ‘Sprite’). The magic tends to relate to drumming and the spirits to the toy piano, Japanese bowls or vibraphone. The resulting pieces do more than mourn the impact of the current pandemic (harsh though this is) and also reflect on the relationship between the making of music and its interpretation through movement in dance. The pieces alternate between a small drum kit on which he creates rich, rhythmic textures to inspire dancers, and meditative pieces that work variations on the opening tune. This is called ‘Summoning’ and is placed on toy piano and Japanese bowls – a theme whose simplicity force you to hold your breath and imagine the stillness of an empty theatre. It is slightly spooky and, like the other pieces that work this theme, is much less about movement and more about stillness. Perhaps once the spirits of dancers appear, they are awe-struck by being on stage, waiting to dance, and pacing to and fro before they respond to Pyne’s magical drumming. Or perhaps it is these variations on the theme to Pyne is using to capture the stillness of the dancers of the Images Ballet Company on the CD cover – frozen in time and waiting for the moment when they are released from the spell of lock-down and summoned to perform again. - Chris Baber, JAZZ VIEWS https://www.jazzviews.net/martin-pyne---spirit-of-absent-dancers.html
In normal times, the vibraphonist, drummer and percussionist Martin Pyne is involved in collaborations with dancers. When the Covid-19 lockdown began, he compensated for the enforced halt in that activity by spending part of May and June in his home studio, recording music for imaginary choreography. The result is Spirit of Absent Dancers, an album of 19 short solo pieces ranging from Tibetan prayer bowls to a standard drum kit.
In terms of percussion improvisation, try to imagine something that runs from the Zen sound-painting of Frank Perry to the light swing of Billy Higgins. There’s nothing loud, nothing showy, nothing esoteric. Just a delight in the deft touch of a stick, a mallet, a finger or a wire brush on metal, skin or wood, and in the process of transforming sound into a sense of movement.
When he’d finished recording, he sent the results to Yorke Dance Project, a contemporary dance company based in south-west London. Here’s a clip of what the dancer and choreographer Laurel Dalley Smith did with a solo vibraphone piece called “Enchantment”. And here’s a piece for drum kit called “Eidolon”, interpreted by Abigail Attard Montalbo. And another, titled “Banshee”, danced by Jordan Ajadi.
We’ve needed a lot of protest music this year, for obvious reasons. But during a period of general anxiety, there has also been a place for music offering a diversion into reflective tranquillity. Spirits of Absent Dancers takes its place among a group of recent albums — others include Pete Judge’s Piano 2, Mino Cinelu and Nils Petter Molvaer’s SullaMadiana, and Stillefelt, by Percy Pursglove, Thomas Seminar Ford and Chris Mapp — that I’ve found particularly valuable in that respect. - Richard Williams, THE BLUE MOMENT https://thebluemoment.com/2020/10/13/music-for-absent-dancers/
Before Covid-19, Martin Pyne spent the majority of his professional life working with dance. Spirits Of Absent Dancers reflects on what has been lost, with Pyne imagining himself as the lone musician in a deserted theatre, throwing out sounds to conjure up the ghosts of dancers no longer present. He begins with a simple melody played on toy piano and Japanese temple bowls. Originally composed for a ballet, the theme becomes a recurring element across the seven vibraphone solos that follow. Using various mallets, bows and preparations, Pyne generates a range of timbres, from soft bells to woody balafon. These are interspersed with improvisations on a small drum kit. Pyne invokes the dancers through rhythmic development, yet these pieces stand up as musical statements in their own right. - Stewart Smith, WIRE
Martin Pyne spends a lot of his time preparing music for use in a dance studio environment, so during this recent period where everybody is shut up in their own little universes, he has found his mind wandering. Images of a lonely musician adrift in an empty theatre bereft of performers abound in this latest collection of lovely stripped back pieces that utilise percussion and vibes, with the resonance of an empty room and the swelling reverb of the vibes lending gravity and melancholy to the improvisations.
There is a shadowy mystery at play on Spirits Of Absent Dancers; the initial piece featuring a toy piano, but still managing to evoke ghostly movement, the affecting resonance caught in a shuttered, dust-flecked aura. From then on, the pieces seem to alternate between percussion-led tracks and vibes-oriented pieces that cause constant change and the swirl of limbs passing through air. The echoes are pure and unfettered, untouched by obstructions and objects, just drifting in the darkness.
Japanese bowls add a spiritual element and a hazy feel to some of the pieces, and sit well with the firefly-like vibes. This is improv but in a thoughtful way, scattered yet ruminative. The vibes are a magical instrument that you feel just might dissipate into the aether in the more abstract pieces, while some of the drum pieces are jazzy and can have a touch more heft. Regardless of this, they are always about the capture of movement and that elusive sensation that the missing dancers attain.
There is nothing gauche here and nothing derivative, everything sinuous and travelling with a certain distant grace. Martin is a great player and he wrings everything out of the shrunken kit he has chosen to use, while his feeling for what the vibes can transmit with the faintest of notes is impeccable. His ability to evoke mood without resorting to standard rhythmic practice is great for the atmosphere required here, and the deft juxtaposition between movements is nicely done.
When a martial rhythm is employed around the middle of the album in “Visitant”, this comes as quite a surprise, with its all-round kit workout and general liveliness highlighting the sparseness of the preceding “Charm”, where the vibes take on the distant tremor of wine glasses. It sounds as though the edges of the vibes are being bowed on certain pieces, and particularly on “Hexing” that juxtaposition with the more exuberant workout moves from light to shade with great subtlety.
Spirits Of Absent Dancers is a selection of pieces that are in a way melancholic, but aim far higher than that, twisting sound and texture to fit the sort of whirling physical shapes that the spectral dancers of the musician’s imagination may have conjured. Unusual in a way, but so atmospheric and evocative that it works perfectly. -Mr Olivetti- FREQ https://freq.org.uk/reviews/martin-pyne-spirits-of-absent-dancers/
Album solo pour Martin PYNE, résultat du confinement de début 2020 et de la fermeture des studios de danse où il travaille habituellement. D’où le nom du disque «Spirits of absent dancers», une série de morceaux pour vibraphone et percussions solos (+ une batterie et un piano-jouet). 19 morceaux, généralement courts, et une musique calme et un peu mystérieuse, pour ce musicien qui vit à l’ouest de Londres. - Guy Stuckens, Radio Air Libre
19 ricercati, delicati e raffinati affreschi sonori realizzati da Martin Pyne (vibrafono, batteria, percussioni, toy piano). Cominciando con un semplice tema (ipnotico, quasi per ballerina meccanica) al toy piano (Summoning), il disco prosegue con incisioni ritmico-atmosferiche da ascoltarsi in due modi complementari: aperta e rilassata percezione del suono e immaginazione dei movimenti che la danza potrebbe offrire per realizzare l’offerta musicale. I ballerini assenti sono quelli che un musicista abituato a lavorare con danzatori e danzatrici sogna nel periodo del Lockdown: infatti, un desiderio di immagine in movimento sorge spontaneo all’ascolto di questi brani. Brani largamente improvvisati immaginando la danza in un teatro deserto e invitando a immaginarla. Un disco particolare: pensato, sentito, auratico, d’ambiente: anche nei brani in cui la batteria o il vibrafono vanno verso il jazz (ad esempio Umbra e Invocation). Un disco che senza strafare richiede di essere apprezzato con cura, tanto per l’idea quanto per la realizzazione. Voto: 8,5 - Alessandro Bertinetto – Kathodik
An avid composer and improviser, Martin Pyne lives in Egham, Surrey, 19 miles west of London. On vibraphone, drums and percussion, he devotes most of his career to his collaboration with contemporary dance, working several hours a week with dancers.
Released in summer 2020 on bandcamp and then in physical version on the British label Discus Music, his solo album, Spirits of Absent Dancers, a pure product of confinement, is a work as unexpected as it is exquisite!
“Towards the end of April, an image occurred to me: I imagined a lonely musician in a deserted theater, like some kind of healer, throwing sounds into space in an attempt to evoke the ghosts of dancers who are no longer present, to breathe movement into stillness. "
Alternating vibraphone solos and percussion solos, ranging from Tibetan prayer bowls to a standard drum kit, Martin Pyne improvises nineteen short, subtle, refined, evocative pieces.
He records in the small wooden studio he has at the back of his garden. “While I was playing, each song was actually not a solo, but a duet with a dancer in my head. "
The album could be an ode to the sense of touch, as the variety of timbres and rhythms that Martin Pyne improvises, all in delicacy without anything aggressive to the ear, constitutes a pure delight. – Alice Leclercq, CITIZEN JAZZ