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CD Review: Dan Nicholls – Ruins

Dan Nicholls – Ruins
(LOOP1017. CD Review by Chris Parker)

‘[A] highly immersive experience’ is what composer/pianist Dan Nicholls promises listeners to this, his first full-length album as leader.

To this end, his compositions deploy tapes, sampling and field recordings alongside more overtly conventional forces – his own keyboards (Rhodes and wurlitzer pianos, organ, Roland Sh-101); organ (Kit Downes); bass clarinet (Shabaka Hutchings); tenor/bass clarinet (James Allsopp); drums (Dave Smith) and occasional alto clarinet (Tom Challenger) – to explore what he terms ‘the media’s repeated and predictable imagery of disaster’.

Accordingly, the album’s opener, ‘Blinkers’, emerges from news-programme samples; ‘Chaos Happens’ is inspired by the ‘spontaneous and chaotic nature of riots and public uprisings’; ‘Voice Intercepts’ ‘alludes to phone hacking and other invasive press techniques’ etc.

If this suggests that Ruins might be simply a soundtrack to social protest, however, the album’s final track, ‘idontknow’, as its title suggests, dispels such a simplistic notion; the music is well able to speak for itself, reflecting, courtesy of touching a variety of bases (from avant-electronica to contemporary-jazz bustling, from spontaneous improvisation to more structured, interlinked thematic material), the complexity of contemporary life as observed (and manipulated) by the extraordinary variety of new media that have emerged in the post-internet age.

A thoughtful, committed piece of work that has understandably impressed the likes of Iain Ballamy (‘understated and suggestive – truly jazz of the 21st century’) and Liam Noble (‘a rich sounding palette of colours expertly handled by the kind of virtuoso players who can leave space as well as groove hard’).

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