The multi-instrumentalist lays down all his other options to concentrate on solo piano. The midnight mood comes through.

Label: Open Sky Records
Time:  12 tracks / 48 mins

I’ve looked forward to hearing a complete Bainbridge piano album since a gig near Milton Keynes a few years back with his band Iona, who have often been described as having a jazz edge to their music, along with the stronger rock and Celtic sides.  He was improvising at the piano as an intro to a fuller piece. It was a tantalizingly short section that I wanted to be so much longer.

In other settings, he has been a man of extremes. His current band Celestial Fire (a must to catch when they tour the UK shortly) is the new, far more muscular version of Iona; but in solo and duo work, he has generally produced more ambient and reflective material.

This is literally a solo piano album, the only exception being the title track, which features barely-there “ethereal” vocals from his touring partner Sally Minnear, as well as several discreet piano overdubs.

It begins with “Collendoorn Suite,” a collection of six tracks recorded late at night after session work in the eponymous Dutch town, where his colleague Frank van Essen has a studio. You can feel the quiet evening coming through. One section is dedicated to Jack Bruce, whom Bainbridge had worked with, and who died a week after this recording.

Bainbridge began these pieces by thinking of a different musical idea for each of them, such as improvising around a short melodic phrase, or around fifth intervals in the left hand in one, sixths in another.

While it may technically be jazz – and Bainbridge reveals in the liner notes his first inspiration for piano improvisation came from deep absorption in Keith Jarrett’s work – I can’t help sensing a classical influence, with the feel of some Debussy and Satie sitting there somewhere.

Pretty much all of it is gentle and late-nightish, except for the appropriately dramatic tumbling theme to “Incarnation,” which was recorded at the start of Advent, and the denser “Like a World, Behind the Song.”  

While it is essentially a set of in-the-moment improvisations, the strongest tracks for me are the final pair, based on the established Iona melodies “A View of the Islands” (written by his wife Debbie) and “Beachy Head.”

(A compilation of my Iona interviews with Bainbridge are now on my blog here, with a shorter one compiling conversations about his solo work to follow shortly).

Derek Walker