19 Dec 2017
dbh – Mass
Reviewed by Shaun C. Rogan
‘Mass’ is the name of the new LP on Thread Recordings by multi-instrumentalist Dan Bridgwater-Hill and it’s a beautiful travelogue of small ensemble soundscapes and (acoustic) guitar workouts unfiltered by needless sound manipulation. This is pure alchemy, this is why Albert Ayler was so very right when said that music was the healing force of the Universe shortly before climbing the cosmic staircase to the infinite. In its wordless totality ‘Mass’ represents a celebration of the human spirit, of this Eden we call Earth, a divination of the human condition. It contains much beauty within its grooves as, for example, the quiet meditative drone and picking of the beguiling and explanatory track ‘Light Pools’ suggests. At its best moments ‘Mass’ it is an intensely soulful and cleansing experience.
The great thing for me about dbh the guitar player, multi-instrumentalist and composer is his approach to impressionistic song writing. ‘Mass’ is never flashy or overwrought as dbh is sure of his technique and ability to deploy musical colour with light and space concisely and to great effect. As Miles Davis once famously said, ‘its not the notes you play but the ones you don’t play’. dbh intrinsically understands this and so the purity of his musical vision is never diluted by extraneous diversion, whichever instrument is at hand.
Since his last record, 2015’s equally impressive “Mood” our man has been on his travels playing clubs and venues across Europe and further afield. This has undoubtedly infected his approach and widened his musical palate as evidenced by the joyous Latin undertow of ‘Med Sun’ with its dancing horses of guitar and violin. ‘Guitar Limb’ is a lovely rural saunter through country lanes and endless fields of green. ‘Ghost of Eyeless’ is a left hand turning - strange and opaque. It’s simple opening figure evolving into a frieze of bucolic strings, half heard piano lines and shady mental pathways of dried sticks and leaves that lead the listener past sleepy hollows and weeping willows. It’s ambition is impressive and its delivery hits the spot - never outstaying its welcome even though clocking in at just shy of 7 minutes.
Elsewhere, ‘Faith’ is dissonant and dense whilst ‘Blues II’ is dreamlike and distorted. The latter brilliantly evokes that feeling of synaesthesia and otherness – somewhat akin to listening to a musical box playing in an adjacent room whilst simultaneously finding yourself falling into unconsciousness in front of a fluttering fire. Its one of my favourite moments on a record littered with high points – a thing of rare beauty.
‘Hike’ sobers the active listener back up with its simply stated and resonant modal piano motif, a distant relative of Bill Evans perhaps. Its gently dissipating clusters of contemplative chords, are allowed to breathe out across the room to speak directly and clearly to your heart. Gorgeous. The closing ‘Mass Appeal’ heads for the turnstiles that enclose a foggy moorland, its brief interlude taking us past the deserted hillside village to the ruins of an abbey where the ghosts of the past congregation still gather in silent homage. It’s been a beautiful trip and I immediately think about playing it all over again.
So there you have it, 10 tracks of compelling and sonically literate music from dbh. He comes and stands at every door. You should find it within yourself to let him in. A joy.