Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

June 05, 2023


“Rain Shadows” isn’t an album that shouts for your attention but instead earns it through its quiet beauty and understated sense of purpose.

Bruno Heinen & James Kitchman

“Rain Shadows”

(Ubuntu Music UBU00134)

Bruno Heinen – piano, James Kitchman – guitar

“Rain Shadows” is the début album from the duo of pianist Bruno Heinen and guitarist James Kitchman, both familiar figures on the Jazzmann web pages.

Heinen first came to my attention as far back as 2012 with the release of “Twinkle, Twinkle” (Babel Records),  a set of variations on the well known nursery rhyme theme recorded with his Dialogues Trio featuring Andrea Di Biase on bass and Jon Scott on drums, together with guest reed soloist Julian Siegel.

Next came “Tierkreis”,  (2013) a superb re-interpretation of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a contemporary jazz context that saw Heinen’s group expanded to a sextet with the addition of horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (clarinet).

The self explanatory “Postcard To Bill Evans” (2015) was an intimate duo set with the Danish guitarist Kristian Borring, while “Changing Of The Seasons” (2017) re-imagined Vivaldi in a collaboration with the Geneva based string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva.

Also in 2017 Heinen was part of the New Simplicity Trio featuring the Italian drummer and composer Antonio Fusco and the London based Danish bassist Henrik Jensen. These three collaborated on the album “Common Spaces”, also released on Babel.

In 2018 Heinen released the impressive solo piano recording “Mr Vertigo” (Babel), an album he described as being “an exploration of solo piano counterpoint”.  This featured ten pieces that drew on Heinen’s broad range of influences including jazz, classical and even pop music.
2019 saw Heinen working with another new group, Kino Trio, a collaboration with the Italian musicians Michele Tacchi (bass) and Riccardo Chiaberta (drums). This was a highly democratic line up, united by a shared love of music and cinema, and with the composing credits shared around the group. The trio’s excellent début “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” subsequently appeared on the Babel label.

2019 also saw the release of “Pretty Things”, a collection of solo piano performances of well known David Bowie songs. It’s the one of the few previous Heinen releases not to be reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. I haven’t actually heard it and suspect that it may be a digital release only. In any event it certainly sounds interesting, and is indicative of Heinen’s remarkably broad range of interests and influences. The same applies to the subsequent “Boxed Invert Presume”, a solo recording exploring the art of multi-tracking.

Following a long association with Babel the pianist established his own Heinen Records imprint, upon which he released the excellent trio album “Out of Doors” in 2020, recorded in the company of Di Biase and drummer Gene Calderazzo. My review of this recording, from which much of the above biographical detail has been sourced, can be found here;

Heinen, Di Biase and Calderazzo currently appear alongside vocalist Heidi Vogel in the quartet The W, a more song based ensemble that released its début album “Portrait” on Ubuntu Music in early 2023.

Others with whom Heinen has worked include vocalists Reem Kelani, Emilia Martensson and Heidi Vogel, bassist Sebastiano Dessanay and saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Julian Arguelles and Rachael Cohen.

He also occupied the piano chair in a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican. By way of contrast he has also recorded with the hip hop artist DJ Vadim.

Also something of an academic Heinen studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music with Head of Keyboard Andrew Ball before moving on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall, where his tutors included the celebrated jazz pianists John Taylor and Pete Saberton, both sadly no longer with us. Heinen dedicated the album “Mr. Vertigo” to their memories.

He recently completed a practice based AHRC funded PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester “Counterpoint in Jazz Piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch”.

Heinen is currently Professor of Jazz Piano at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music.

As a composer Heinen has written pieces for two pianos and percussion, jazz sextet, jazz big band and classical string ensemble. He has won prizes from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Countess of Munster Trust and in 2009 was nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Composers Award.

Guitarist James Kitchman came to my attention much later, firstly as a guest with the Old Hat Jazz Band, a young London based ensemble playing original compositions in the style of the jazz from the 1920s and 1930s. Led by drummer Lizzy Exell the OHJB album “The Sparrow” is reviewed here;

However Kitchman is a highly versatile guitarist whose playing defies easy categorisation.   I saw him perform with saxophonist Jonathan Chung’s group Glasshopper at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. This was a hugely impressive performance and Kitchman also appears on all of the group’s recordings, including the 2016 EP “Glasshopper” and the full length album release “Fortune Rules” (2020). My review of the “Fortune Rules” album can be found here;

Glasshopper’s music can perhaps be described as ‘electro-jazz’ and the use of electronics represents an important element of that band’s sound. Kitchman’s guitar is frequently utilised as a textural device and his distinctive playing style includes the skilful deployment of a wide array of effects.

It’s a style that also informs Kitchman’s own début, the superb “First Quartet”, released on Ubuntu in 2022 and featuring a band including Heinen on piano, Tom McCredie on bass and Shane Forbes at the drums. The album was rapturously received by the jazz media as a whole and my own review of the recording can be found here;

Kitchman is also a member of McCredie’s Tell Trio and has also recorded with drummer Phelan Burgoyne, vocalist  Sylvia Schmidt and the duo BirdWorld (percussionist Adam Texeira and cellist Gregor Riddell).

He has been part of the quintet Little Weaver Bird, featuring vocalist Lauren Kinsella, saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan and a rhythm team of Di Biase and Burgoyne.

Previous projects have included work with the London Soundpainting Orchestra and with the Orpheus Sinfonia, the latter performing Tarik O’Regan’s electro-acoustic opera “The Wanton Sublime” at the marvellously named Grime-Born Opera Festival.

Kitchman was a co-leader of the Southern Cone Quintet, a chamber music style take on traditional Chilean, Argentinian and Uruguayan folk music. He has also written for cinema and has performed with Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of the rock group The Libertines.

Sideman engagements have included The Cinematic Orchestra and work with vocalist Heidi Vogel, drummer Corrie Dick and pianist / vocalist TJ Johnson.

As can be seen from the above biographies Heinen and Kitchman have worked together before, most notably on Kitchman’s “First Quartet” album. They have also worked together regularly as part of Vogel’s trio and Kitchman has also made guest appearances with The W.

“Rain Shadows” brings them together for an intimate duo recording, partly inspired by the classic Bill Evans (piano) and Jim Hall (guitar) duo album “Undercurrent”, which dates from 1962. Other notable piano / guitar pairings include Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny and closer to home Ross Stanley /Chris Allard and Sean Foran / Stuart McCallum, plus of course, Heinen and Kristian Borring.

Recorded over the course of a single day by Nick Taylor at Porcupine Studios in London in December 2020 “Rain Shadows” comprises of eight tracks, with Heinen and Kitchman each contributing two compositions. The remaining four pieces consist of “spontaneous improvisations, titled according to mood”. These are scheduled so as to intersperse with the fully composed pieces.

The duo say of their work;
“The album features compositions by each of us, interspersed with free improvisations. We wanted to capture the musical dialogue and rapport that we’ve developed whilst keeping a feeling of focussed freedom. Our compositional styles come together through a shared harmonic language, reminiscent of composer Charles Ives and the period of early twentieth century music at which tonality was reaching breaking point and beginning to unravel. The album travels across a spectrum of moods on its path; from bright optimism to the murky depths of despair and back again.”

The album commences with Kitchman’s composition “Warm Valley”, inspired by the landscape of his native Northumberland. There’s a suitably bucolic and pastoral feel about the music as the melody lines of guitar and piano gently intertwine. Heinen’s piano takes the lead for a while before Kitchman’s guitar assumes a greater prominence, these are not designated ‘solos’ as such and the ‘passing of the baton’ is subtle, intelligent and understated.

“End Of Summer” is the first of the improvised episodes, characterised by Heinen’s minor chording on the solo piano intro and the general air of melancholy that pervades the piece. The instrumental interplay is as subtle and delicate as ever and the level of rapport between the two instrumentalists is totally empathic and consistently impressive.

Heinen’s first contribution with the pen is “Snowed In With Cedar Walton”, a homage to one of the composer’s piano heroes inspired by Heinen’s visit to an intimate concert given by Walton in New York. Introduced by Heinen with a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece draws inspiration both from Walton and from Thelonious Monk, but without sounding obviously “Monk-ish”, with the music retaining an underlying lyricism throughout.

The improvised “Electrical Storm” exhibits a spikier brand of interplay with Kitchman’s playing sometimes venturing into the realms of extended technique. Nevertheless even at its most angular the music still retains something of the underlying sense of lyricism that distinguishes the album as a whole.

Kitchman’s title track features the composer’s crystalline guitar gently weaving a path through Heinen’s piano counterpoint. There’s the familiar blurring of lines with both instruments sharing melodic and rhythmic duties, the switching of roles subtle, understated and almost unnoticeable. Northumberland is situated in a rain shadow, a fact that may have provided Kitchman with a title. As a visitor I’ve always preferred Northumberland to the Lake District, it’s drier, less commercialised and the scenery is just as beautiful, but in a different way. However, I digress.

The improvised “Dune Movement” seems to continue the atmosphere of “Rain Shadows”, albeit in a less obviously structured manner. Heinen’s piano dominates in the early stages but Kitchman’s guitar remains a vital part of the musical dialogue, achieving greater parity as the piece progresses.

“Cold Light Of Morning”, another improvisation, features Kitchman making judicious use of his effects pedals to create ethereal guitar swells around the icy shards of Heinen’s piano. There’s an air of chilly, fragile beauty about the music that is fully in tune with the chosen title.

The album concludes with Heinen’s composition “Bliss”, a stately piece that draws on both jazz and classical influences and which navigates a series of twists and turns before finding resolution. Both instruments assume the lead at various points, and again the transitions are sensitively and intelligently handled. At times there’s an almost hymn like quality about the music and the piece serves well as an end of album ‘valedictory’.

“Rain Shadows” is an impressive statement from the duo as they combine fully written and spontaneously improvised pieces to create a convincing whole. There’s an underlying unifying aesthetic running throughout “Rain Shadows” that helps to draw the listener into the duo’s sound world.

The playing is both intimate and intricate, the roles of the players clearly delineated but with the duo still functioning as a single musical organism. Their listening skills have helped to create an almost telepathic rapport that finds expression in the quiet beauty of this album. Heinen and Kitchman are adept at creating a mood and play without ego, serving the music at all times and utilising their impressive individual skills to this purpose.

“Rain Shadows” isn’t an album that shouts for your attention but instead earns it through its quiet beauty and understated sense of purpose.


blog comments powered by Disqus