On Record – Sebastian Rochford & Kit Downes: A Short Diary (ECM)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is an album with a deeply personal touch. Dedicated to Gerard Rochford, an Aberdeen poet and father of drummer Sebastian, it is described by him as ‘a short diary of loss’, offered as ‘a sonic memory, created with love, out of need for comfort.’

Around the time of his father’s death in 2019, Seb experienced a rush of musical thoughts coming to him, even though he wasn’t looking to write anything. This became part of the grieving process, and though he initially looked to resist the urge he found that giving space to the musical thoughts was helping him cope better elsewhere. Sat at the piano, he was able to vent his feelings through the simple vehicle of a home grand piano, and later the drum kit.

To help him he enlisted regular collaborator, pianist Kit Downes, and the pair recorded the music at the Rochford family home, capturing its ambience on record.

The final piece, Even Now I Think Of Her, is a composition by Gerard himself, sung into his phone and sent to Sebastian.

What’s the music like?

There is a beautiful and often heart stopping intimacy to this music. When experienced late in the day it is a companion for thought and reflection, turning inwards towards the centre of the mind on thoughtful pieces like Night Of Quiet, which at other times opens outwards and bringing the departed spirits and surrounding environment into the conversation.

This Tune Your Ears Will Never Here – a heartbreaking title – is a beautiful piece with which to start, setting out the hymn-like disposition of a lot of Rochford’s musical thinking. It begins with the piano intoning a solemn sequence in block chords, yet distracted by bigger thoughts at play.

The drums are very sensitively used, very much in the background – while on a piece like Love You Grampa complementing the piano’s free-thinking block chords. The first impression here is adding some well-judged percussion to a languid Debussy piece, but then the piece opens out into something more playful.

On Silver Light the music hints at folksong in the right hand of the piano, with modal melodies and light punctuation from the drums. Rochford’s compositions are capable of sustaining their concentrated thought for longer, too – and as Ten Of Us explores the lower ranges of the piano, the audience is effectively placed in the room next door, listening intently. It ends with a show of inner strength, Downes playing ever more expansively as the drum kit also intensifies.

Gerard’s composition fits hand in glove with the rest of the album, its right hand melody lightly insistent and dressed with brushed snare drum. It must have been almost unbearably poignant to record.

Does it all work?

It does. The instinctive nature of the music is wholly absorbing, and although Rochford’s father may have passed on, the strength of his character frequently comes across in writing that is thoughtful, reverent and lightly amusing.

Is it recommended?

It is. This is a concentrated, intimate set of musical studies and meditations, and clearly worked as part of the grieving process for Rochford. It is a beautiful, poignant album for musical reflection and reparation.



You can explore listening and purchasing options for A Short Diary at the ECM Records website

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