Album review

Bruno Heinen & James Kitchman – ‘Rain Shadows’

Bruno Heinen & James Kitchman – Rain Shadows

(Ubuntu Music UBU0134. Album review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

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A line-up of just piano (Bruno Heinen) plus electric guitar (James Kitchman) could call to mind the Bill Evans / Jim Hall classic Undercurrent (1962) – especially for anyone familiar with Heinen’s beautiful duet album Postcard to Bill Evans (2015) with guitarist Kristian Borring; or with Kitchman’s clean sound, spacious lyricism, and self-confessed indebtedness to ‘Jim Hall, Scofield, Frisell’.

The first clue that this album is different is visual. Ubuntu Music does indeed release many albums from young lions (often debut artists, incidentally) giving a modernist twist to classic fifties and sixties jazz – but the covers for those albums tend to reflect the nostalgia with photos and typography reminiscent of Blue Note. But this album’s cover (design by Noemi Caruso) is a fuscia, orange and blue background overlaid by a white lace-like mesh that gradually reveals itself as multiple overlays of the album’s title in caps, RAIN SHADOWS – suggesting something altogether more modern.

In fact, the near-abstract artwork is a good metaphor for the music, eight originals dividing neatly into two compositions apiece (Kitchman contributing Warm Valley and the eponymous Rain Shadows, and Heinen Snowed in with Cedar Walton and Bliss) and four free improvisations (End of Summer, Electrical Storm, Dune Movement and Cold Light of Morning). A quote in the notes for the album launch concert at Kings Place on Friday 2 June 2023 says: ‘Our compositional styles come together through a shared harmonic language, reminiscent of composer Charles Ives and the period of early twentieth century music at which tonality was reaching breaking point.’ That atonal tension often surfaces (especially in the free improvisations) when melody, rhythm and harmony occasionally threaten to fracture into complete abstraction before gracefully relaxing back into something more lyrical. More jazz-inflected tensions surface too, especially in the Monkish Snowed in with Cedar Walton – an aptly named tune, as Walton himself was a hard-bop pianist who cited Thelonious Monk as a major influence.

In another equivalence between artwork and music, the hall-of-mirrors effect of the cover’s typography is reflected in Heinen and Kitchman’s occasional use of echo effects. These work particularly well on Cold Light of Morning, where Kitchman provides guitar ‘swells’ (using the volume knob or a pedal to gradually increase the volume, cutting the initial attack) that Heinen overlays with piano ripples that sparkle kaleidoscopically when treated with echo.

I said earlier that ‘this album is different’ from Undercurrent but in many ways it’s similar: in its near-telepathy between the two players; in its lyricism; in its fluency and tasteful restraint. If Evans and Hall were around today, I like to think they’d dig this album too.

LINKS: Bookings for the album launch at Kings Place on 2 June


Categories: Album review, Reviews

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