Sun, Cloud

Luke Howard
Classical, Jazz
Self-release. CD, vinyl or digital
Compositions by Howard. Performance by small orchestra, ensembles, soloists
Reviewed by , March 2nd, 2014

In Melbourne they say if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes. But on the 13/11/13 it rained and rained … and then some. Awaiting a grand entrance to the South-Eastern ‘Freeway’ I confronted an island of alert red tail lights. I slipped on Luke Howard’s Sun, Cloud seeking a different means of transportation. So effective was it in its ethereal wonderment that I found myself some time later at point B, not understanding how I had arrived there.

On this award winning album, Howard never veers from his initial trajectory. He sees no need to make one’s moods fluctuate between sadness and spontaneous revelry – it is pure calm. The pianist has several guises. He performs improvisatory wizardry with Anton Delecca’s jazz quartet and explores a vast stylistic spectrum on his soundtrack album, This is Magnolia, but here, as with his Trio, the focus is on the detail of the placement of sounds in time and space. Oh, and on clouds. Howard points out that his namesake, living from 1772-1864, was an amateur meteorologist who named the clouds – cirrus, stratus and cumulus, plus their sub-categories.

Howard also dips his lid to several classical composers on this CD, using their works as starting points for his own meanderings. Bach’s first piano prelude on Rotations, Debussy’s whole tone scale-based compositions on Portrait Gallery and even touches of Pachelbel are referenced. But it is perhaps Howard’s use of gravitational points, repeated notes around which players navigate a cosmos beyond, which are most intoxicating. A Softer World is particularly potent in its use of these sustained riffs and the minor and alternating major tonalities developed from them. Similarly August (and you know from the first note that it is the August we experience in the Deep South of the Southern Hemisphere) is bound to this recurring musical hinge on piano, but the strings move gradually from the melancholic gloom of minor grey to a place of rich harmonic warmth and comfort. Howard uses harmony and bass lines particularly well. Rising and descending riffs meet sonic pin-heads and irresistible resolving suspensions. They are a feature of such tracks as the lush string piece, Schlusshymne.

Liminal, a composition employing cello and piano with an infusion of rain is a soundtrack waiting to wrap itself around a visual canvas. In a very different way, the electronic ambient piece, Nachtsonne, begs for a large space combining surround sound and visual interactive engagement and I would love to see where Howard takes this kind of composition in the future.

You know he is a good listener. When part of a group not playing his own material, he responds almost intuitively to what is happening around him, creating a wonderful sense of cohesion. With his own music, Howard never feels the need to take over. There is an obvious synchrony he shares with his compatriots on this work, many of whom he performs with on other musical ventures. The resulting balance and sense of oneness is really quite special. There appear to be only clear skies ahead for this complete musician.


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