by Ian Mann
May 29, 2020
Although occasionally unsettling this music is also often chillingly beautiful, and in this respect very much reflects the spirit of our times.
Gary Husband & Markus Reuter
“Music of our Times”
(MoonJune Records MJR101)
Gary Husband – Fazioli F212 Grand Piano
Markus Reuter – Live Electronics, AU8 Touch Guitar
This aptly titled recording teams the Yorkshire born multi-instrumentalist Gary Husband and the German guitarist Markus Reuter in a series of six intimate duets.
This music is very much a product of the unprecedented circumstances that the world finds itself in during the ongoing Corona Virus pandemic.
At the beginning of March Husband and Reuter were in Japan where they were touring with the band Stick Men, featuring Reuter on guitar, Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick and Pat Mastelotto at the drums. Husband was guesting with the group on keyboards.
After just one performance at the Blue Note jazz club in Nagoya the tour, which was also due to visit China, was cancelled due to the pandemic, leaving the group temporarily stranded in Japan.
Leonardo Pavkovic, the enterprising proprietor of Stick Men’s record company, MoonJune, rapidly took advantage of the situation. He quickly booked a block of studio time for two musicians at NK Sound Studio in Tokyo on 3rd March 2020 and documented this unrehearsed duo session, featuring the talents of Husband and Reuter, for posterity. The results were released a month later, a remarkably swift turnaround by the current standards of the recording industry, and even more so given the current challenging circumstances.
“Music of our Times” represents the 101st release on the MoonJune imprint and in many ways mirrors the label’s first ever release, “Bar Torque”, a duo recording featuring former Soft Machine saxophonist, the late Elton Dean, and guitarist Mark Hewins.
Equally adept on drums and piano/keyboards Husband can be regarded as the British equivalent to Jack DeJohnette and has developed into one of the UK’s major musical exports. I recall seeing the then eighteen year old Husband drumming with bassist Jeff Clyne’s band Turning Point way back in 1980. That particular tour, supported by the much missed Contemporary Music Network, augmented the core Turning Point quintet with guests Neil Ardley (synthesiser) and Allan Holdsworth (guitar). The latter turned out to be one of Husband’s closest collaborators in subsequent years.
Still working as a drummer Husband enjoyed rock star status during a substantial tenure with Level 42, but he was always drawn back towards jazz and experimental music and also began to feature more frequently on piano and keyboards. During the course of an illustrious career he has recorded sixteen albums as a leader or co-leader, sometimes leading from the drum kit, on other occasions from the piano or electric keyboard.
Husband has also collaborated with an astonishing array of international musicians from a variety of musical genres, among them bassist/vocalist, Jack Bruce, drummer Billy Cobham and guitarists Robin Trower and Gary Moore. Husband seems to have a particular affinity with guitar players and is currently a member of John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension group. A more comprehensive career overview and a more exhaustive list of Husband’s musical associates can be found via his website, http://www.garyhusband.com
Reuter is probably best known for his association with the Stick Men group and is also part of the duo Tuner with Stick men drummer Pat Mastelotto. He has also been associated with the experimental band Centrozoon and with the Europa String Choir. Other collaborators include vocalist Tim Bowness, Indonesian keyboard player Dwiki Dharmawan and Canadian guitarist / vocalist Devin Townsend.
Reuter’s Stick Men partners, Levin and Mastelotto, are also members of King Crimson and Reuter has enjoyed a number of collaborations with other musicians with associations with that band. These have included the sextet Crimson ProjeKct, a meeting between Stick Men and former Crimson guitarist / vocalist Adrian Belew’s Power Trio.
Again, a fuller account of Reuter’s admirably diverse musical activities can be viewed via his website http://www.markusreuter.com
Given Reuter’s involvement with Stick Men, and other Crimson alumni, plus Husband’s lengthy association with guitar pioneer Holdsworth I was initially expecting “Music of our Times” to be an intense and challenging affair. But instead of being filled with the kind of dense, arpeggiated knottiness one associates with Stick Men, Crimson and Holdsworth the music is instead spacious, unhurried and strangely calming. If Grandmaster Fripp can be considered an influence then it’s through his work with Eno rather than King Crimson and its numerous offshoots. The improvisations on “Music of our Times” have an ambient, soothing quality a musical balm for the troubled circumstances that produced them.
In a revealing interview for MoonJune’s Bandcamp page Husband reveals that the six improvisations were an attempt to match the mood prevalent in Tokyo at the time of the recording as the city was becoming eerily quiet and its population moving into a state of lockdown. “Solemn, introspective and understated” are among the words Husband uses to describe the duo’s music. He also goes on to describe his reactions to the sad death of Holdsworth three years ago, and to whom the piece “White Horses” is dedicated. The video of the Husband interview can be seen here;
I’ve mentioned the ‘ambient’ quality of much of the music and on first impression it might appear that there’s not a lot going on. Yet this is the kind of music that slowly draws you into its gently floating orbit through its other worldly beauty. On the opening “Colour Of Sorrow” Husband’s gentle, sombre, appropriately dolorous piano meditations are augmented by Reuter’s live electronics (for the purposes of this recording he’s been described as a ‘programmer) and occasional guitar contributions. A couple of years ago I witnessed a thrillingly intense live performance by Stick Men at the Robin2 Club in Bilston, Wolverhampton and can confirm just what a monster player Reuter is on his various Touch Guitars. But here his eight string semi-acoustic AU8 is mainly employed as a textural resource, responding to Husband’s piano ruminations, the keyboard sounds and augmented and embellished by Reuter’s combination of guitar and live electronics. The Robin, incidentally was also the setting for a live performance by Holdsworth and his trio that I enjoyed back in 2008.
Having established the overall aesthetic of the album on the opening track the mood continues on the following “Across the Azure Blue”. The reflective atmosphere is maintained, albeit with a more wistful feel and with an ethereal quality encouraged by the spacey shimmer of Reuter’s guitar in conjunction with the glacial tinkle of the piano. There’s more guitar here and the piece feels rather more of a meeting of equals with Reuter conjuring a fascinating array of sounds from the AU8.
The title track begins with the sound of Reuter’s electronics, which subsequently underscore Husband’s piano improvisations, sometimes sounding like a ghostly string orchestra. There’s a darker, more unsettling air about the music here as the duo continue to chronicle an all too present dystopia.
The gently unfolding patterns of “A Veiled Path” suggest the influence of minimalism with Husband’s subtly mutating piano arpeggios embellished by Reuter’s atmospheric electronica, the guitarist / sound artist once more creating an impressive array of colours and textures from the resources available to him. Again the piece remains true to the prevailing theme of the album, resulting in a chilly, but unsettling beauty.
“White Horses” is dedicated to the memory of Holdsworth and the improvisation was titled by Husband, the other pieces being named by Reuter. In his video interview Husband reveals that for him the enormity of Holdsworth’s death didn’t fully kick in until he was off the road and on a family holiday, the phrase “White Horses” being a reference to breaking surf. Musically the piece follows on from “A Veiled Path”, there’s that same sense of austere beauty and gentle melancholy, qualities achieved through a combination of acoustic piano and guitar enhanced electronica.
The album concludes on a more optimistic note with “Illuminated Heart”, which has more of a song like structure than the five previous improvisations. But the focus remains on beauty, spaciousness and atmosphere. Even here Husband and Reuter choose not to rush, continuing to focus on mood building and on colour, nuance and texture.
There’s a unified and unifying quality about the six improvisations here with Husband and Reuter maintaining the same mood for the duration for the album. In all there’s around fifty minutes of music, but despite the fact that it’s largely one paced it never feels boring as the duo skilfully draw the listener into their delicately constructed sound world.
As Husband has stated the prevailing mood is often “solemn, introspective and understated”, but, as we have all come to learn during the lockdown, there can be genuine beauty in solitude. Although occasionally unsettling this music is also often chillingly beautiful, and in this respect very much reflects the spirit of our times.
It won’t be for everyone, and despite being improvised it won’t necessarily appeal to jazz fans who are purely looking for swing. But nevertheless I feel that this an album capable of appealing to a broad swathe of listeners, ranging from curious jazzers, to rock fans drawn in by the Crimson connection, to lovers of contemporary classical and electronic music.blog comments powered by Disqus