Shadyzane: Steps of the Sun
Matter Records

The London-based artist composer Chris White has composed scores for feature films, television series, animations, and documentaries, so it's only natural his Steps of the Sun album should exude a powerful cinematic character (the inclusion of “Springtones for Tarkovsky” confirms as much). Since graduating from the UK National Film and Television School (with a Masters in Composition for Film and Television), White has composed scores for projects such as Ela (directed by Silvana Aguirre and short-listed for an Oscar in 2008) and One Hundred Mornings (directed by Connor Horgan), and, as a touring musician, he's also shared the stage with Ray Charles and Paul McCartney, among others. Steps of the Sun isn't his debut but a follow-up to the 2003 full-length Under the Shady Tree and 2006 EP Deepening Repetitions.

“A Winter Music” initially paints a landscape of shadowy industrial character, with White's tenor saxophone and Lewis McCallum's bass clarinet the voices pushing their way through the gloom, before dusting itself off and turning into a jazzy gallop. Sounding like Jon Hassell emoting at late-night club in New York's lower east side, “Microclimate (Tobacco Kiosk)” casts a dark jazz spell with a muted trumpet howl, while the exotic closer “September” finds White's saxophone wending its way through Moroccan back alleys. White demonstrates his composing chops in “Springtones for Tarkovsky,” which perpetuates that ponderous vibe with a through-composed, strings-laden chamber setting of meditative design.

Interestingly, the quieter the material gets, the stronger an impression it makes. That's never more true than in the case of “Slowbird,” which spreads the sparsest of bass tones (courtesy of Wayne Nunes) across a near-barren backdrop (listen closely and you'll hear the clicking sounds of a film projector as well as snatches of environmental noise—whistles, rustlings, etc.) for twelve transporting minutes. Stripping a track's sound back so severely is a bold gesture that in this case pays off, with “Slowbird” (rather similar, interestingly enough, in spirit to Eno's Music For Airports) ultimately registering as the album's most striking and most memorable composition.

December 2009