1320 Recommends: ‘Between the Lines’ by Steve Hamilton

Music reviews are a sometime thing for the 1320Journal. They tend to be an instinctive response to something remarkable that’s happened to catch my ear. I can safely say, however, that the new solo offering from Scottish jazz pianist Steve Hamilton has done just that.

Now, when I tell you that Hamilton is a jazz pianist, I use the term guardedly. Certainly, he is a well-known face in jazz circles, not least for his frequent occupation of the SNJO’s piano stool. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra has featured many fine players over the years, but (don’t tell the others) I’ve always warmed to Steve Hamilton’s empathetic style and lyrical improvisations. Yet, he is also inclined to explore further afield as his diverse discography clearly shows. (see his website below for more information).

Steve Hamilton

On Between the Lines, he takes his jazz hat and tries it out on a number of different pegs including brightly lit electronica, acoustic musings, sonic poetry, and late night reverie. The result is far less scattergun than it sounds because the intention is, I think, to seduce rather than assault the senses.

Hamilton has long nurtured a relationship with electronic music at the mellow end of the digital sound spectrum, sometimes sounding like a man absorbed by pure tone and hypnotic colour. On this recording, the liaison is made fruitful by blending the best of his essentially acoustic personality with his electronic persona. He has help, but we’ll come to that later.

The opening track, called Awakenings, is a modestly paced exercise in trance that teases a repeating pattern into pleasingly complex new shapes. It also sets down a marker for other pieces that use programming to upgrade old ideas. Tunes such as Angus By Rail, Sofia and Look Up, for example, are highly descriptive, evocative and playful. They are also streets ahead of the ‘pure vibe’ tendency that has been circulating in electronic music ever since Tangerine Dream got their first Moog.

It may also be no accident that you can hear, emerging from the space haze, overtones and undertones of the Blue Nile. Somewhere in time, I reviewed Midnight Without You, Steve’s collaboration with guitarist Kevin Mackenzie. Their interpretations of Paul Buchanan classics and personal BN favourites were pitch perfect and the album remains a solid favourite of mine to this day. On this digital collection, however, the man grinding the axe is guest guitarist Davie Dunsmuir and he brings a six razor’s edge to the gently undulating In A Flash of Light.

A starry cast of supporting musicians have lent their gifts to Between The Lines but the strongest voice is Hamilton’s piano, which is thoughtful, reflective and full of human feeling. The blending of electric, electronic and acoustic music with his articulate and compassionate style is consistently affecting and is, in places, quite seamless. The standout tracks are too many to mention but listen out for the title track and Map of You to hear the essential Steve Hamilton.

MSC

Between the Lines is available now from Bandcamp

Steve Hamilton – Keys, Mixing & Mastering.
Martin Taylor – Acoustic Guitar
Don Paterson – Guitars, Arranging & Programming
Paul Booth – Saxophone
Davie Dunsmuir – Guitars