Rowan Hudson – Passing Ships

Guest review by Doug Thomas

Rowan Hudson is a British pianist and composer who stands halfway between the worlds of jazz and minimalism. His musical activity is diverse – playing with his piano trio with JJ Stillwell (bass) and Angus Bishop (drums), his duo with singer Richard Hadfield, his six-piece group Nattacackle, and his new five-piece group Passing Ships with whom he has just released a debut album, Rowan Hudson’s Passing Ships. With his piano trio and the addition of Sophie Creaner on clarinet and Sophie English on the cello, Hudson delivers a project full of cool jazz harmonies, pictorial sounds tinted with Delius-esque passages (the pianist writes a blog dedicated to the English composer), and humorous textures.

Passing Ships starts with Transatlantic; it is built on a dominant tonality that creates a pulse of tension, progressively unfolding and over which the ensemble decorates and sets contrasting pictures and textural idioms. Hudson might have been influenced by the works of The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and it is visible through Wind-up Birds. Here the prominence of the cello creates an opportunity for the composer to develop the structural aspect of the piece, making it richer and richer, and at times more intense and perhaps darker. Ometepe Patterns is based on pianistic musical cells that provide a foundation for the clarinet and the cello to jokingly sing. The Lighthouse is a lot more melancholic and very lightly built on an odd rhythmical structure that creates a musical sway.

Although all the album has been fully composed, pieces like Pianosa display Hudson’s talent at creating true organic conversations between the instruments. It is based on a dancing pizzicato pattern on the cello and double bass, with a responding and contrasting cymbal. Finally, the very descriptive Longitude reflects on the passing of time and monotony; the pianistic ostinato, the beating cymbaling of the waves and the liquid motion of the cello.

Hudson’s music is very light in spirit, and at times whimsical. One can really hear the musicians interacting with each other, and enjoying their performance, and this reflects on the listener’s experience. While listening to Passing Ships, I had pictures of Renoir, Manet, Sisley, Monet and Pissaro. But most importantly I could see the pictorial landscapes of Bournemouth, Margate, Brighton or St Ives. In this album, there is a sensation of joyfulness, lightness and peace of mind; there are images of children running on the shore, couples cruising away from it, and friends playing on the dunes. A musical escape from the grey sounds of the city.

Rowan Hudson’s Passing Ships is available on CD or via download. More information

Meet the Artist interview with Rowan Hudson


Doug Thomas is a French composer and artist based in London and a regular writer for ArtMuseLondon.

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This review first appeared on Doug Thomas’ own site

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