New Zealand’s Rattle records contain a cornucopia of wonders and the recent release of ‘Small Worlds Vol One’ by Darren Pickering is the latest. Pickering is a Christchurch-based musician and this marks an important milestone on his musical journey. He has recorded in his own right, been a runner-up in national jazz awards and appeared in various ensembles as a sideman. Small Worlds Vol One sits nicely with the label as it has something special that sets it apart.
The Small Worlds quartet has a warm spacious sound that engages us with its subtle interplay and with beguiling textural riches. The first track, Simple Ballad, set the tone for me. Here, as in many of the album’s tracks, you are aware of a floating quality, the sort we hear from the Tord Gustavsen Trio, where every nuance is palpable and every note resonates deeply. Much like modern European keyboardists post-EST, Pickering uses effects, but you are not hyper-aware of this as he deploys them minimally and skillfully.
Not all tracks on the album are ballads, but they are all informed by a minimalist and ambient-aware approach. Because of this the album rewards deep listening and draws you inside the music, rather than making you a mere observer. Again, I can’t help but reference the similarity to modern northern European jazz stylings in this regard.
This is a unit that plays as one and at these slower tempos that can be challenging for musicians. No one crowds as they move seamlessly in and out of the mix. A guitar can easily dominate small ensembles but this is a masterclass of situational awareness. Playing in unison or carrying the melody lines but always appropriately modulated in regard to his bandmates. The bass playing and drumming are also superb, laying down a supportive cushion and challenging by subtle means.
We live in odd times when the clamour outside tends to overwhelm us. In order to survive this cacophony of madness we must enrich our interior lives and find safe havens. Here you have such a haven and it is one that you will want to return to often. When I hear a New Zealand album like this I am encouraged. Hearing our musicians explore the diverse streams of improvised music and making them their own, makes me happy, that is where the future lies.
Small Worlds: Darren Pickering (piano, Modular, iPad), Mitch Dwyer (guitar), Pete Fleming (bass), Mitch Thomas (drums) Out on Rattle Records NZ ( rattle-records.bandcamp.com )
JazzLocal32.com is rated as one of the 50 best Jazz Blogs in the world by Feedspot. The author is a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association, a Judge in the 7VJC International Jazz Competition, and a poet & writer. Some of these posts appear on other sites with the author’s permission.