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Noah Stoneman

Anyone’s Quiet: Let it Rain to You.

by Ian Mann

September 18, 2023


Stoneman’s debut has been very well received and one senses that he has the potential to become a major player on the UK jazz scene in the coming years.

Noah Stoneman Trio

“Anyone’s Quiet: Let it Rain to You”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 657)

Noah Stoneman – piano, Will Sach – double bass, Luca Caruso – drums

Twenty two year old pianist and composer Noah Stoneman studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is a former finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition.

I first encountered his playing at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival when he appeared with the trio Zenel at that year’s JazzNewBlood showcase at the Iklectik Art Lab venue in Waterloo.

Also featuring Laurence Wilkins on trumpet and electronics and Zoe Pascal at the drums Zenel impressed with their brand of electro-jazz, with Stoneman featuring on both acoustic and electric keyboards.

Stoneman has since left Zenel, but the group continues, with Wilkins and Pascal now joined by not just one, but two, keyboard players, Jay Verma and Alex Wilson.

Since departing Zenel Stoneman has recorded and toured with the saxophonist and composer Alex Hitchcock and is part of the Anglo-American all star cast that appears on Hitchcock’s acclaimed 2021 album “Dream Band”, which also appears on the Fresh Sound New Talent imprint.

Others with whom Stoneman has worked include vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield, saxophonists Sam Barnett, Ruben Fox, Matt Carmichael and Xhosa Cole, guitarists Tara Cunningham, Miles Mindlin and Rob Luft, trumpeter Christos Stylianides, flautist Ruta Sipola, violinist Dominic Ingham,  vocalist Ella Hohnen-Ford, bassists Caius Williams, Steve Watts and Freddie Jensen and drummers James Maddren and Jack Thomas.

In addition to his work as a jazz musician Stoneman has also studied modern classical composition with Ruth Byrchmore and Alex Hills at the Royal Academy and has written works for string quartet and for piano and operatic soprano. He also composed the original score for the mini-series “Life in Love”, directed by Abel Rubinstein, which was broadcast on ITV and shown at the BFI London Film Festival.

Stoneman’s debut album concentrates on his role as a jazz pianist and composer and features nine of his original compositions. The album is produced by fellow jazz pianist Kit Downes, another player with a wide musical remit, who has acted as something of a mentor for Stoneman. The album also benefits from the engineering skills of Sonny Johns and Peter Beckmann, two of the best in the business.

Of his debut recording Stoneman comments;
This record is about finding moments of solace and quiet amongst noise. The creation of the album itself was a practise of self discipline, meditation, concentration, and trust in the long-term for myself. My hope is that people can find some sense of quiet reflection or poetry in listening to it; that they embrace the ebbs and flows and trial and error of everyday life that the music speaks to.”

Album opener “Tomas and Tereza” establishes Stoneman as an accomplished contemporary jazz pianist who is able to combine an already prodigious technical facility with an admirable emotional warmth and lyricism. His compositions are ambitious and rarely stay in one place for long, and this opening piece moves rapidly through a variety of moods and tempos. The tune takes its title from two of the characters in the Milan Kundera novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and it’s likely that the ebb and flow of the music is intended to mirror the narrative arc of the novel. Stoneman’s young colleagues provide intelligent and flexible support and both perform with great skill, a quality needed to keep pace with Stoneman’s flow of ideas. Caruso’s drumming is neatly energetic and packed with fine detail, and it’s interesting to note that he also doubles as a keyboard player in other musical contexts, rather like a young Gary Husband.

Caruso’s press roll ushers in “Borders”, which combines darting melodic motifs with an almost conventional swing feel at times. But once again there are multiple things going on, with Sach and Caruso responding energetically to Stoneman’s increasingly expansive piano explorations.

One suspects that the title of “Evanesce” is a homage to the great Bill Evans, whose playing still remains the primary reference point for contemporary jazz pianists, although it’s clear that Stoneman has also absorbed many more recent influences, with producer Downs numbering amongst them. Introduced by Sach at the bass this is a more reflective and lyrical piece and features Caruso’s deft and subtle brushwork alongside the leader’s piano ruminations. Sach is featured as a soloist with a melodic double bass excursion. Stoneman and Sach have previously worked together in bands led by saxophonist Alex Hitchcock and vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield.

“Calm” is less serene than its title might suggest, although an underlying lyricism still informs the trio’s increasingly abstract instrumental interplay. Although the album is credited to Stoneman alone this is still very much a trio of equals, with Sach and Caruso adding hugely to the group sound as part of a highly interactive unit. The trio’s collective explorations evolve into an extended drum feature for the impressive Caruso, this acting as a segue into the following “Mourndoom”. Pounding and insistent this second piece exhibits the kind of dark energy that is implicit in is title and is perhaps closest in style to modernists such as E.S.T, GoGo Penguin and the Swiss piano trio Plaistow.

One supposes that the title “Band Of Brothers” refers to the trio’s tightness and inter-connectedness as a unit. It’s less frenetic than “Mourndoom” but still exhibits a strong sense of purpose in a sometimes vigorous three-way conversation that includes prominent roles for bass and drums, with Sach frequently assuming the lead.
Again there’s a segue as the music evolves into “Postlude”, a musical conversation featuring an effective contrast between Stoneman’s sparse piano chording and Caruso’s busy drumming, the latter circumnavigating his kit as Sach’s bass occupies an anchoring role.

Paced by Sach’s rapid bass walk the brief “Strands” exhibits something of the vigour of the earlier “Mourndoom”, with Stoneman playing darting melodic motifs above the rhythmic ferment generated by the busy rhythm section, with Caruso’s drums featuring strongly towards the close.

Unaccompanied piano introduces the closing “Major”, a more lyrical, gently swinging piece with more of an ‘old school’ feel. The leader stretches out in unhurried fashion, his expansive piano lyricism skilfully shadowed by bass and drums.

The enigmatically titled “Anyone’s Quiet : Let it Rain to You” represents an impressive debut from Stoneman. His compositions are full of interesting melodic and rhythmic ideas as the “moments of solace and quiet” of which the leader speaks are juxtaposed with darker, more energetic moments. There’s certainly no lack of light and shade. The “ebbs and flows and trial and error of everyday life” indeed.

Stoneman’s piano technique is already fully honed and he receives superb support from Sach and Caruso, the drummer’s playing having evoked comparisons with that of the great Martin France. Indeed there are moments on this album that recall the peerless trio led by the late, great British jazz pianist and composer John Taylor that featured France and the Swedish bass player Palle Danielsson.

As previously alluded to the standard of the engineering and production is also excellent, fully capturing the details and nuances of the trio’s playing.

Stoneman’s debut has been very well received by the British jazz press and one senses that he has the potential to become a major player on the UK jazz scene in the coming years. His style isn’t as distinctive as, say, Fergus McCreadie and his themes, for all their invention, aren’t as memorable as McCreadie’s folk inspired melodies, but then Stoneman isn’t really aiming for the same effect. Nevertheless the two trios are united by a strong ‘band of brothers’ group mentality and an exceptionally high level of instrumental interaction.

Stoneman’s next move will be awaited with great interest.

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