A Short Diary (ECM)

Sebastian Rochford / Kit Downes

Released January 2023

DownBeat Five-Star Review

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About:

This “short diary (of loss)”, as drummer Sebastian Rochford calls it, is offered as “a sonic memory, created with love, out of need for comfort.” It is dedicated to Rochford’s father, Aberdeen poet Gerard Rochford, 1932-2019, and to his family. Seb, one of ten siblings, wrote most of the music shortly after Gerard’s death and delivers it here, in performances of deep feeling and hymn-like clarity, together with pianist Kit Downes. The final wistful piece, “Even Now I Think Of Her” was composed by Gerard Rochford. Sebastian explains:  “It’s a tune my dad had sung into his phone and sent me. I forwarded this to Kit. He listened, and then we started.”

Rochford recalls how, after his father passed away, “music just seemed to come to me, sing inside me every day, sometimes even as I woke. Though initially I felt conflict in writing and hadn’t wanted to, in it’s coming, it realised in me a sense of comfort and also a way to sense physically what I was feeling.  So in a musical way, it became my diary of this time.” As far as diaries go, this may be a quietly reflective one; however, it is also imbued with striking melodic themes and poignant chord progressions, replete with many nuances and different shades of tone and timbre spread across a simple grand piano and the bare necessities of a drum-kit.

The album was recorded at Rochford’s childhood home in Scotland – its intimate acoustics captured comprehensively and with crystalline transparency. “As my parents always loved music being played at home and we would not be able to keep the house, I thought to record the music there, also as a sonic memory of where I grew up, played on my grandfather’s piano, gifted to us by my father’s brother, a tribute to the wonderful, kind hearted man I called my dad.”

As the drummer wrote the music, sitting at his father’s piano, he took notes in a manuscript book, making sure to record, in words, the details of atmosphere and ambiance that can’t be expressed through scores. “All the music has sheet music and as the tone is an important part of the feeling, Kit and I spoke about achieving certain dynamics, as I felt if the piano went past certain dynamics, the feeling was lost for me. The writing of the music was also a comfort for me at this time, so I wanted the music we recorded to reflect that.”

For the opening, hymnal “This Tune your ears will never hear” in his manuscript book Seb jotted down: “Like a child calling out alone into an empty void”. Regarding “Night of Quiet”, performed on piano solo, Rochford points out the setting: “It was late. I could hear people speaking in the other room. I played the minimum, just to know the notes, very quietly.” And for “Love You Grampa”, where common chords and hymnal tendencies return to be further investigated, the drummer-composer again emphasises the importance of family bonds. These thoughts transcend the music, and the music returns the favour.

Rochford approached Manfred Eicher – with whom he had previously worked playing drums on Andy Sheppard’s albums Trio Libero (2012), Surrounded By Sea (2015) and Romaria (2018) – and asked if he’d be open to producing A Short Diary. “I feel Manfred understands how to concentrate and intensify what the artists he has chosen to work with are aiming to achieve, allowing them to bloom. Due to the circumstances of how this album came together and my previous experience of him, I felt he would understand and be sensitive to this music, as this was vital to me.”

A meticulous production process in collaboration with Eicher, who then mixed the album in Munich, followed: “Listening to Manfred’s mixes was like he was showing me what I had made and hearing the music for the first time. To be honest, I don’t even know how he made the music sound the way it does, but I felt he had intensified and brought into focus everything about it.”

Track Listing:

1. This Tune Your Ears Will Never Hear (Sebastian Rochford) 3:52

2. Communal Decisions (Sebastian Rochford) 1:57

3. Night Of Quiet (Sebastian Rochford) 4:56

4. Love You Grampa (Sebastian Rochford) 6:15

5. Our Time Is Still (Sebastian Rochford) 3:32

6. Silver Light (Sebastian Rochford) 4:55

7. Ten Of Us (Sebastian Rochford) 7:08

8. Even Now I Think Of Her (Sebastian Rochford) 4:14

Personnel:

Sebastian Rochford: drums

Kit Downes: piano

Recorded February 2020, Waverley, Aberdeen, by Alex Bonney

Mixed by Manfred Eicher and Michael Hinreiner

Cover Photo: Clare Rochford

Design: Sascha Kleis

Producers: Manfred Eicher, Sebastian Rochford

Review:

Downes’ circumspect drums and Rochford’s tentative piano set the tone for Diary with “This Tune Your Ears Will Never Hear,” a moving song Rochford wrote in memory of his father, who died in 2019. The album is an extended elegy and a healing, and it is lean. Diary’s subtlety is its strength. The drumming is often ghostly, the piano stately but ringing. On the deliberate “Night Of Quiet,” a Rochford-Eicher co-production, the piano gains such resonance it feels as if a phantom cello has entered the room. Too unexpected for background music, the thoughtful, precise sounds of this respectful and warm duo demand attention; the overtones are as compelling as Rochford’s minimalist keyboard strikes. Downes’ judicious cymbal and suggestion of brush add just the right touches.

Carlo Wolff (DownBeat)