Quite a few years ago now, master shakuhachi player Adrian Freedman and I began to set up equipment and get ourselves comfortable around 7 in the evening in a church in Totnes, Devon. By the time we had sound-checked, finding the ideal recorded sound in a beautiful natural acoustic with incredibly high-quality gear, it was around 9pm. We then pressed record, began to improvise, and went on, with a few minutes break here and there, til about 4am. Most of what we did was completely free, although we did experiment with deciding who would start and take a main voice, and we also did one with a fun form along the lines of that game where you say ‘I went to the shop and I bought a toothpick’, then ‘I went to the shop and bought a toothpick and a stadium, and ‘I went to the shop and bought a toothpick, a stadium, and a 2nd hand quarry’ etc etc. So the way that works in improvising is that one person plays a note, then the 2nd person repeats that note, and adds a second, then the first person plays both the notes and adds a third. While this is building up, both of us played all the notes that we had so far, while just the person whose turn it was added the last note. After a while we have a melody that has been improvised but that we now know and can repeat in unison, and that became a theme that we could return to, in a kind of Rondo form. It was very satisfying to be able to work with structure with improvisation in that way.
And what an evening it was. Still, several years later, the most amazing thing was how often we seemed to be able to blend the sound so seamlessly that it became hard to tell listening back later which instrument was which at a few moments. So surprising with a Japanese bamboo flute and a European cello! And although our instrumental traditions are extremely far apart, Adrian and I have very similar backgrounds, musically. We even went to the same music college – the Guildhall – and we listen to music, or maybe even we hear music in a similar way, so that often our improvising choices seemed very natural to each other: when to go deeper into something, when to break out, when to sail together, when to push away….there are so many choices available in every second when you improvise, and it takes a lot of concentration to track your own journey while being open to the other and able to respond. Somehow the atmosphere, being alone in a church in the dead of night, really helped to find the stillness that often we searched for, and a feeling that music is a form of prayer. Following the recording session Adrian then took all the files and undertook the huge job of turning all that material into an album, and Night Journey is the result. It’s out now and we will play a concert on Dec 30th in London (in a church, in the evening) to celebrate the release. As projects go, this one is probably a niche of a niche of a niche, but we got such pleasure from this journey and discovered so many moments of musical beauty on the way, that we would love to share that as widely as possible. You can get the album on iTunes and Spotify, or the actual CD here.