Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

June 28, 2019


A lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies.

Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum


(Naim Records)

Sean Foran – piano, synthesisers, Stuart McCallum – guitar, electronics

with Sam Vicary – bass, John Parker - drums

“Counterpart” is the result of a new collaboration between the Australian pianist Sean Foran and the British guitarist Stuart McCallum.

Foran is best known as the pianist with the Brisbane based trio Trichotomy, the current line up of which also features drummer John Parker and bassist Samuel Vincent. Trichotomy have enjoyed a long association with the British Naim record label with whom they released the albums “Variations” (2010), The Gentle War” (2011) and Fact Finding Mission” (2013), all of which have been favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site.

In 2017 Trichotomy moved to the Dutch label Challenge for the release of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”, which also saw Vincent taking over from previous bassist Pat Marchisella. This maintained the high standards set by the trio and later in the year they followed this with the digital release “Live with String Quartet”, the latest in an ongoing series of co-operations with classical ensembles and one of the most exciting and convincing recordings of its type. More recently Trichotomy have collaborated with the Australian folk/country/blues singer/songwriter Danny Widdicombe.

Foran and Parker write the bulk of Trichotomy’s material with the pianist being particularly prolific with the pen. Foran spent time studying at Leeds College of Music before returning to his native Australia and in 2016 released the excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” Jazzhead Records) which featured a British band comprised of McCallum on guitar, Julian Arguelles on reeds, Ben Davis on cello and Joost Hendrickx at the drums. This was a stunningly beautiful album and my review of it can be read here;

Foran has also worked with the Australian vocalist Megan Washington and with the trio Berardi/Foran/Karlen featuring vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen.
He has also acted as composer and musical director with the Expressions Dance Company.

The success of “Frame of Reference” encouraged further collaborations between Foran and McCallum, resulting in the release of “Counterpart”, the title chosen to reflect the similar musical journeys undertaken by the two musicians on opposite sides of the globe.

Manchester based McCallum is arguably best known as the guitarist with the highly regarded Cinematic Orchestra but he has also enjoyed a prolific solo career that has included the albums “Echo Architect” (2006), “Stuart McCallum” (2009 “Distilled” (2011), “Distilled Live” (2012), “The Ultimate Form” (2013) “City” (2015), “City Live” (2017) and the EP “Solitude” (2018). He has also released two duo albums with fellow guitarist Mike Walker, “Beholden” (2014) and “The Space Within” (2016). Foran appeared on the “City” album with McCallum returning the favour on the pianist’s “Frame of Reference”.

Others with whom McCallum has worked include bassist Ben Crosland, saxophonist John Surman and the bands The Breath (his alt folk duo with vocalist and songwriter Rioghnach Connolly) and Slowly Rolling Camera, the latter led by pianist, composer and Edition record label founder Dave Stapleton.

Foran and McCallum met up in Manchester armed with a selection of sketches and song ideas and let the album unfold naturally during the recording process. “It was quite organic, we emailed some ideas for songs, a few from each of us, and then I turned up in Manchester and we spent a week recording” explains Foran.  He continues; “We’d never played these tracks of each other’s before, and didn’t really know how the whole thing was going to work”.

The duo decided to add UK bassist Sam Vicary and Foran’s Trichotomy colleague John Parker to the equation to create a true Anglo-Australian quartet. “That really lifted the whole album into new territory” comments Foran. McCallum adds “luckily there was a real sense of connection in the music and the playing, so it happened quickly”.

McCallum has always exhibited a fascination with the texture of sound, deploying his array of acoustic and electric guitars,  plus a vast arsenal of electronic effects, to create a range of sonic landscapes ranging from the lush and pastoral to the dark and unsettling. It’s a technique that has informed his solo output and his work with others, particularly that of Cinematic Orchestra.

Meanwhile Foran plays both grand piano and a range of synthesisers and the resultant music embraces elements of jazz, rock, ambient and contemporary classical music with guitarist Pat Metheny and pianists Nils Frahm and Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) mentioned as influences in addition to minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. All of the pieces here are jointly credited to Foran and McCallum.

Opener “Stasis” sets the duo’s stall out, combining the type of electronic soundscaping that has become a McCallum trademark with the sounds of acoustic guitars and piano to create a beguiling electro-acoustic soundworld. There’s a strong focus on melody, a quality that Foran brings from Trichotomy and from solo projects such as “Frame of Reference”. There is also an episodic quality to the writing that sees the piece moving through a range of stylistic and dynamic contrasts with Vicary and Parker adding discrete additional rhythmic propulsion as required. The sound of McCallum’s soaring electric guitar plus the cinematic quality of the writing invites the inevitable Metheny comparisons but ultimately Foran and McCallum bring enough of themselves to the music to render it personal and distinctive.

“November” evokes a suitably wintry landscape via its combination of subtle, shimmering electronica, deftly picked acoustic guitar and glacial but lyrical acoustic piano.

“While The Trees Waltz” features some of the duo’s most delightful melodies with the delicate guitar and piano interplay enhanced by Parker’s cymbal embellishments.

Foran adopts a Rhodes piano sound on “Panorama”, combining it with acoustic piano in association with McCallum’s similarly tasteful mix of acoustic and electric sounds, plus Parker’s gently propulsive brushed drums. This piece features more gorgeous melodies and a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano from Foran.

The music to be heard on “Triple Bypass” is less dramatic than the title might lead one to expect. Instead acoustic guitar and piano combine in a delightful duo performance that delivers more of the duo’s trademark melodic lyricism.

“Quiet Times” continues the introspective mood on a piece that once more features a combination of acoustic and electric sounds from the co-leaders with sympathetic support coming from Parker and Vicary. McCallum’s electric guitar is at its most Metheny-like on another piece of gorgeously melodic writing.

“Skydancer” re-introduces an element of electronica on one of the album’s most haunting and atmospheric tracks, again effectively combining these elements with more conventional acoustic sounds.

The curiously spelt “Effergy” is a gently lyrical duo performance featuring cleanly picked acoustic guitar and celeste like piano.

The album concludes with “Monkey”, which was actually released as a single, and is a lively quartet performance that is more upbeat than anything else on the album. McCallum’s agile guitar lines combine well with Foran’s synths and Parker’s crisp drumming as the recording closes on an energetic note.

“Counterpart” represents an impressive statement from Foran and McCallum and is a lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies. With judicious and effective use being made of overdubbing techniques it’s very much a studio creation, although one suspects that the duo would have little difficulty in presenting these pieces in the live environment, such is the strength of the tunes and the quality of the writing. Vicary and Parker make unobtrusive but important contributions and are essential to the success of the project.

The mood almost throughout is quiet, introspective and gently lyrical, pastoral even. It may prove to be a little too bloodless for some listeners but many more will love this album’s gently lyrical atmosphere, its memorable melodies and its innate tunefulness. Foran and McCallum serve the tunes faithfully, there’s no instrumental grandstanding here, although neither player is exactly short on technique.

Fans of Foran and McCallum in other contexts will no doubt find much to enjoy here but I suspect that this album would also appeal to Pat Metheny’s vast legion of followers. There’s a Metheny-like quality about many of the melodies here and at times this partnership reminds me of Metheny’s collaborations with Lyle Mays and later with Brad Mehldau.

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