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David Preston

Purple / Black Vol. One

by Ian Mann

February 29, 2024


Preston's memorable melodic themes form the basis for music that is simultaneously accessible and adventurous and which is rich in terms of colour, texture and atmosphere.

David Preston

“Purple / Black Vol. One”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4804)

David Preston – guitars, Kit Downes – piano, Hammond organ, keyboards, Sebastian Rochford – drums, synths, Kevin Glasgow – electric bass

On the evening of Thursday 22nd February 2024 I was due to cover a trio performance by the guitarist, composer and bandleader David Preston at a Music Spoken Here event at The Marr’s Bar in Worcester.

Preston was leading his Mµ Trio, a new group featuring Conor Chaplin on bass and Joel Barford at the drums. They were to be playing music sourced from “Purple / Black”,  Preston’s first album under his own name but his third for Whirlwind Recordings, the label founded by bassist, composer and bandleader Michael Janisch.

Preston’s previous two releases for the label featured him as a member of the collaborative trio Preston-Glasgow-Lowe, which featured the guitarist alongside electric bass specialist Kevin Glasgow and drummer Laurie Lowe. The trio’s eponymous debut was released in 2016 and was followed by “Something About Rainbows” in 2018.

Preston has been playing the guitar since the age of six but only began to take music really seriously at sixteen. He subsequently studied at Middlesex University and at Trinity Laban and began his professional music career as a member of the band backing singer Charlotte Church.

His interest in jazz was encouraged by an uncle who introduced him to the sounds of both prog rock and jazz, with John Coltrane and Miles Davis representing significant influences, particularly the Miles albums “In A Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew”.

In addition to his solo career and his work with the P-G-L Trio Preston has also performed with saxophonists Nathaniel Facey, Duncan Eagles, Emma Rawicz, bassist Peter Ind, vocalists Lianne La Havas and Eska and drummers Jeremy Stacey, Jamie Murray and Asaf Sirkis. He has also collaborated with the remarkable drummer / pianist Gary Husband.

Preston has also worked with a number of celebrated American jazz musicians, among them vocalists Melody Gardot, Curtis Stigers and Jesse Harris, saxophonists David Binney, Patrick Cornelius and Tim Armacost and bassist Charnett Moffett.

Preston has played with Goldie & The Heritage Orchestra and in 2019 was part of the Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble of musicians associated with the label, who performed with the Canadian sisters Ingrid Jensen (trumpet, electronics) and Christine Jensen (alto & soprano saxes) as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The event was centred around the playing and writing of the Jensen sisters and this excellent evening of music making is reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;

The reason I didn’t get to the Worcester gig was localised flooding, caused by a morning of heavy rain, which should have cleared our region overnight according to Wednesday’s weather forecast. We’ve all got used to being lied to by politicians, but frankly I expect better from the Met Office. Are their forecasts actually any more accurate than they were thirty years ago? I suspect not, despite the supposedly superior technology. We had actually set out for Worcester but were forced to turn back due to flooded roads only two miles from home.

As you may suspect from the above paragraph I was bitterly disappointed to miss a gig that I’d been looking forward to for weeks. Promoter Dave Fuller has since informed that several other MSH regulars were also unable to attend due to the weather. Despite the small audience Dave tells me that the performance was brilliant and he has since written a short account of the gig that has now been published in our ‘live reviews’ section. You can read that here;

In view of my non-attendance at the live event I’ve decided that the best thing for me to do is to write a review of the “Purple / Black” album, a recording that I’ve been listening to a lot recently in anticipation of that Worcester gig. The album was first released in April 2023 but only arrived with me fairly recently as part of a substantial consignment from Whirlwind. Thanks to Michael and his team.

For his first album as a leader Preston decided to take a step back from the brand of high octane fusion purveyed by Preston-Glasgow-Lowe. Instead he decided to focus on  “simple forms, textures and moods - ‘not going full tilt all the time”.

Despite the change of approach Preston has decided to retain the services of Glasgow and has also enlisted two of the real heavyweights of the British contemporary jazz scene, keyboard player Kit Downes and drummer Sebastian Rochford.

The ensemble features two existing duos in Preston and Glasgow and Downes and Rochford but such was the collective rapport between the four musicians that a marathon recording session yielded enough material for two album releases, of which this is the first. Given that virtually a year has elapsed since “Vol. One” appeared one hopes that the second isn’t too far behind. The presence of several as yet unrecorded tunes in the set list at Worcester suggests that this may be the case.

Preston has actually known Downes since 2008 and the pair collaborated on a number of lockdown projects, thus the keyboard player was an obvious choice for the “Purple / Black” recording. Meanwhile Downes has enjoyed a long creative partnership with Rochford, the pair having performed a brilliant duo show at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as long ago as 2012. Both are incredibly busy musicians and it took a long time for the duo to actually release anything on disc. “A Short Diary”, a short set of Rochford compositions written in response to the passing of his father Gerard, eventually came out on the ECM label in 2023. My review of this beautiful album can be found here;

Given the closeness of the Downes / Rochford musical relationship the drummer was also a natural choice for “Purple Black” and, as with all the other projects that he has been involved with, Rochford makes a huge contribution to the success of the recording.

Atmospheric album opener “O’ Winston” is centred around Glasgow’s pulsing four note bass ostinato and Rochford’s crisp drum grooves, these providing the foundation for the melodic and textural interplay between Preston on guitar and Downes on piano. The relentless rhythms give the piece something of an ‘Americana’ or ‘road movie’ feel with the contrasting sounds of FX laden electric guitar and acoustic piano providing colour, texture and atmosphere.

The mood is continued into “Cassino Dream”, which also contains analogue synth sounds that evoke memories of 1980s synth pop. Rochford’s implacable drum grooves again provide the platform for some spirited guitar / piano interplay as Preston soars and Downes dazzles. This is music that owes as much to rock as to jazz, but draws on the best elements of both to again give the music a real filmic quality. Bill Frisell represents an obvious reference point, but I’m also reminded of the music of Duski, the Welsh quintet led by bassist and composer Aidan Thorne, whose music exhibits similar qualities, with Thorne citing the work of David Lynch as a primary source of inspiration for his group’s sound.

The brief “Urtext” is a duo performance that commences quietly with the sounds of Preston’s solo guitar ruminations. He is subsequently joined by Downes at the piano for a reflective dialogue that retains something of the cinematic quality that distinguishes the first two tracks.

“Urtext” acts as an introduction to “Purple / Black” itself, a piece based around some of Preston’s favourite power chords, these a reflection of his early rock and pop influences and also indicative of his wishing to distance himself from the angular complexities of much contemporary jazz. He has described the resultant music as being “sombre and monumental, intense but uplifting”. The combination of guitar and piano is again remarkably effective, with additional organ and electronic keyboards broadening out the sound, the whole thing propelled by the monstrous, mallet driven rumble of Rochford’s drumming.

I assume that “Blues for Klemens” was written for the Austrian drummer Klemens Marktl. Preston’s colleague in the Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra at that memorable London Jazz Festival gig with the Jensen sisters. As its title suggests it’s a kind of abstract blues that places the emphasis on atmosphere and texture and retains something of that Americana quality. Wispy soundscapes combine with snatches of guitar and piano melody, with Rochford adopting the role of colourist at the drums. One imagines a deserted Mid Western town, with tumbleweed blowing about the dilapidated buildings.

“Salem Ascending” continues the ‘Americana’ strand and features a melodic theme that Frisell or Pat Metheny might be proud of. Downes’ lyrical piano solo recalls the late, great Lyle Mays while the leader’s playing is an amalgamation of those Frisell and Metheny influences with Preston’s own distinctive style. Rochford’s brushes combine with Glasgow’s bass to provide a subtly propulsive rhythmic impetus.

The mood darkens on “Prison Lullaby”, which Preston describes as “building around five angular melodic cells to create a powerful sense of unease.”. Spacious, spooky guitar and piano chords combine with Rochford’s sparse but dramatic drumming to create a threatening atmosphere that becomes even more ominous with the addition of Preston’s eerie fretboard scrapings. At a little over over two minutes duration this is an unsettling, but extremely effective, vignette.

The gently unfolding “Shades of Shibuya” with its underlying drone and softly circling piano motif punctuated by plangent guitar chording borrows effectively from minimalism to create music that is again richly evocative.

“VHS Poem” is a composition that has previously been performed by Preston-Glasgow-Lowe but is presented here in a slowed down arrangement designed to allow “the song’s brooding, intense character to shine”. Like the opening “O’ Winston” it’s based upon an insistent bass ostinato around which Preston and Downes spin their melodic inventions, again evoking those Metheny / Mays comparisons. Rochford’s drum commentary is typically eloquent, always finding just the right accent.

The album concludes with “Susie Q’s”, a tune with a song like structure that toys with a straight-ahead jazz feel but filters it through a Purple / Black prism to create something far more distinctive. Downes and Preston both deliver highly melodic, uplifting solos, their lines intertwining as the music develops a genuinely anthemic quality.  It represents a joyous and invigorating way to end a consistently excellent album. I may not have got to the gig but I have thoroughly enjoyed myself listening to this recording.

Preston has said of the recording;
‘I could have brought the same music to a lot of other great musicians and they might not have treated it as seriously because it’s so simple. But Kevin, Seb and Kit understood it instinctively - you can still be creative and interactive on these simple tunes.’  No arguments there.

The presence of either Downes or Rochford on any recording is almost guaranteed to make it an album of interest, and here you get both for the price of one. Both make huge contributions to the success of the recording as they combine with Preston and Glasgow to create something of a contemporary ‘supergroup’. Six string electric bass specialist Glasgow is a virtuoso soloist but here he seems content to concentrate on a supporting role, combining effectively with the consistently excellent Rochford.

Despite the brilliance of the ‘sidemen’ the triumph is ultimately Preston’s, whose simple but intelligent and imaginative writing provides the framework for such excellence. His memorable melodic themes form the basis for music that is simultaneously accessible and adventurous and which is rich in terms of colour, texture and atmosphere. Preston’s own playing is superb throughout as he exhibits an impressive command of tone, texture and dynamics and utilises his array of guitar effects with imagination and acumen. The musicians are also well served by a production team that sees producer Preston combining effectively with engineers Christoph Skirl and Tyler McDiarmid.

“Purple / Black” deserves to establish David Preston as a solo artist of considerable repute and is one of the most enjoyable albums that I’ve heard in quite some time. Without wishing to labour the point it’s an album that should hold considerable to fans of both Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, both artists with large global followings. Fans of these musicians should also be checking out the impressive David Preston.

Finally a plea to Whirlwind Recordings. When can we expect to enjoy “Purple / Black” Vol. 2?



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