Dan Nicholls Mattering And Meaning – We Jazz – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

London-based pianist Dan Nicholls takes a deep dive into the lo-fi with nine piano pieces for the wee small hours. Fractured rather than fractious, these are ruminations on art as process, eschewing the hyper-modern, sleek thrills sought by most producers.

Nicholls has recorded the pieces onto his phone, an aesthetic choice to remove himself far from the madding crowd, locating himself in the vicinity of, say, Angel Bat Dawid territory. A canny move, highlighting his pianistic chops subtly tweaked and phreaked into dream-like fugues and hazed-out memorials.

Papa opens proceedings: yearning, elegiac, steeped in an ache and a sadness brought on by remembrance of times past. Reverie, loss, time floating free, unchecked: shuddering to a halt after the first couple of minutes, before slowly picking back up, moving on, the spirit unbowed.

Breathe is all angular runs and twisting permutations, barely heard voices in the background, an unease in the air – lots to pick up on repeated listens: clever stuff indeed. Again the tune crumbles at three minutes: ‘you can’t find your own voice unless you’re listening for it’ intones Ursula K. Le Guin (possibly – she is mentioned in the press release) as things fall apart: notes on fiction swapping forms with the musical notes – great ending.

Fermentation is chopped, screwed, and bubbled-up with electronics: this is Autechre via the salon – a cool counterpoint to the familiar tropes of the piano. A bad dream, an uneasy taxi ride, wallowing in existential dread: a soundtrack for a sobbing insomniac.

Lou (The Posthuman Reverberates) rounds things off by stretching out, with seven plus minutes of tampered tinkering, exploration of the inner zone. Form and function buffered and broken until the final two minutes return to an electronic coda, waltzing out into a posthuman meltdown.

This is thoughtful, considered music-making, classical foundations giving way to something far darker, textural and nuanced. Miniature in scale, massively invested in ideas. Track it down and join the dots yourself: brain food for the hungry.

Dan Nicholls` Mattering And Meaning is out now on Helsinki’s We Jazz. 

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