Robert Stillman's lived a rather nomadic existence: a native of Portland, Maine, the composer and multi-instrumentalist relocated to Boston at eighteen to study jazz, next moved to New York in 2001, and then England, where he currently calls East Kent home. Yet Rainbow, a return to the solo production approach of 2011's Machine Song following releases with his The Archaic Future Players outfit (Station Wagon Interior Perspective, Leap of Death), feels very much like a recording birthed within the warm cocoon of home, a collection whose relaxed vibe suggests the work of someone comfortably rooted and creating at his own pace.
Though Stillman played all of the instruments and assembled the tracks using multi-tracked recording, he demonstrates impressive sleight-of-hand in convincingly simulating a small-group feel. On this vocal-free album, the most prominent instrument sound is sax, both tenor and soprano (lessons on the horn began in Portland when he was eleven years old), but his piano (acoustic and electric), clarinet, percussion, and drum playing meet the demands of the music, too. Parts of Rainbow evoke the free jazz spirit of the ‘60 and ‘70s, with Stillmann conjuring the image of an explorative New York loft gathering, while another suggests local musicians testifying in a church setting.
On this varied recording, each of its six pieces presents a different aspect of his musical interests. A hint of Brazil flavour sweetens the melodic contours of “Ruthie in May,” with the sing-song quality of the saxophones lending the jazzy rumination a Pied Piper-like effect. In a dramatic stylistic shift, the plink of an upright piano introduces the rousing blues-gospel setting “As He Walked into the Field,” whereas the hypnotic interweave of undulating melodies in “Warren Is a Great Car” calls to mind The Lounge Lizards' 1988 album Voice of Chunk, specifically in the way saxophonists John Lurie and Roy Nathanson built up similar entrancing effects. If there's an anomalous track, it's the field recordings vignette “Field with Pops” on which we hear Stillman softly singing whilst walking outdoors with his daughter, presumably his second-born Romilly. Its inclusion is hardly objectionable, though, when this personal gesture adds to the home-made nature of the project.If there's emotional gravitas to the thirty-five-minute recording, it's undoubtedly well-earned, with Stillman having experienced birth, love, and death during the past four years (an inner sleeve note includes a dedication to his late daughter Ruth). Yet as the cover text (from 1987's Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh) intimates, Rainbow isn't thematically about despair but instead affirmation, gratitude, and celebration.