Duval Timothy - Meeting With a Judas Tree Music Album Reviews

Duval Timothy - Meeting With a Judas Tree Music Album Reviews
The polymath brings his signature compositional style back to the piano for an expressive album that is intimate, immediate, and, for all its ambition, easy to connect to.

To say that Duval Timothy is primarily a pianist is like saying that Benjamin Franklin mainly published newspapers. The artist, who splits his time between London and Freetown, Sierra Leone, is a polymath par excellence. His work spans not just music and painting but a perpetually expanding array of media: hat-making, textiles, a children’s book, furniture, food. He has brewed ginger beer from a West African family recipe and sold it on the streets of the UK, designed sneakers from an upcycled running track, worked with Sierra Leonean traditional weavers, and co-directed a pop-up restaurant serving sub-Saharan food at communal gatherings. The piano is at the heart of his recordings, where, over the past decade Timothy has developed an instantly recognizable, plangent style of playing. Yet even here, his circular progressions might be interwoven with field recordings from his travels, voice messages from friends and family, or a Pharrell Williams sample that roots Black artistic autonomy in the history of colonialism and enslavement. Born in London to an English mother and a Sierra Leonean-Ghanaian father, Timothy consistently places themes of identity, community, and place at the center of his work.

On the surface, Meeting With a Judas Tree might appear to be a simpler, more narrow musical release than some of his previous projects—for instance, Sen Am, which collaged WhatsApp messages from Sierra Leone into a meditation on distance and diaspora. After last year’s Son, a billowing choral fantasia he made with the British musician Rosie Lowe, Meetings With a Judas Tree returns Timothy’s focus to the piano. It is a short album, just 32 minutes long, and all six tracks are instrumental, draping his characteristic chords in faint electronics. It’s uniformly gorgeous; in purely expressive terms, it might be his most inviting album yet. But as usual, a glance at Timothy’s notes reveals that there is more here than meets the ear. Incorporating sessions from a handful of studios across London, Freetown, and Spoleto, Italy, with field recordings made around the world—birds, bats, insects, primates, and even plants and stones—Meeting With a Judas Tree is meant to explore “what the natural environment means personally,” he says.

Timothy’s nomadic methods are most apparent in “Up,” one of the album’s highlights. The playing is typical of his customary style: His left hand toggles away at an ostinato bassline, as though treading water, while his right lays down airy chords with a wistful, ruminative feel. With UK producer (and Frank Ocean collaborator) Vegyn handling effects processing, the piano sounds submerged in a murky pool. The mood is so lulling that it would be easy to miss all the detail in the periphery: softly spoken voices, footsteps, and an electrifying array of buzzing and scraping. Some of these sounds come from a walk with his mother in Bath, England; others are termites in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, and still others are granite stones recorded in the hills of Freetown. The piano, meanwhile, once belonged to Alma Maria Mahler, a composer who was married to Gustav Mahler between 1902 and 1911. Timothy gained access to the instrument during a residency at the Casa Mahler in Spoleto, where he spent two months exploring Gustav Mahler’s work in the context of the climate crisis.

“Many of my projects find their inspiration in specific environments and have led me to connect and care more deeply for that place,” Timothy wrote of his residency in 2021. Taking Mahler’s The Song of the Earth as his starting point, he continued, “I’ll explore the context of Spoleto and hope to make work that could inspire people to consider the critical issues of climate change in a fresh way.” While the didactic use of “Up” is debatable—can a four-minute lullaby change anyone’s mind about global warming?—its transporting mixture of sounds nevertheless exists thanks entirely to Timothy’s wayfaring instincts. Once you know what’s behind the music, the song’s invocation of family ties, the natural world, the classical canon, and even geologic deep time amounts to a potent constellation of forces and ideas.

Despite the focus on the piano, Meeting With a Judas Tree captures a richer, more enveloping sound world than any of Timothy’s previous albums. The opening “Plunge” wraps an ascending, optimistic chord progression in elastic electronics and hints of strings; in “Drift,” the Sierra Leone-born, New York-based musician Lamin Fofana adds flickering, indistinct shapes to Timothy’s mournful chords, as birds twitter about the periphery. A few of these pieces feel like sleight-of-hand tricks, letting in a welter of disorienting detail so gradually that you’re never quite sure how you ended up where you are. “Wood” starts with simple, elegiac piano, but as the song gathers steam, birdsong swells in volume, and an additional topline melody played by Yu Su appears; run through a battery of hazy effects, it streaks like contrails across the sky. Somehow, in just three and a half minutes, we’ve been taken from the practice room to a vast plain where birds and flying machines sketch vectors across the heavens; the sense of wide-open space is overwhelming.

Timothy’s compositional style is so distinctive that at times, it’s unclear whether he’s repeating himself: The rousing chords in “Wood” are strongly reminiscent of “Slave,” a song from 2020’s Help whose theme reappeared in multiple places on that album. Even if this habit of iterating upon favorite motifs is an intentional part of Timothy’s process, there can be a slight feeling of déjà vu upon listening to his work—not an unpleasant one, necessarily, but I do find myself occasionally wishing he might push his playing style in new directions. Fortunately, on Meeting With a Judas Tree, a number of collaborators help defamiliarize his sound. Neither “Wood” nor “Drift” would have been the same without Yu Su’s or Fofana’s respective contributions; likewise, the nearly nine-minute “Mutate” takes flight in large part thanks to the London guitarist Kiran Kai’s playing, which serves as a brittle, metallic counterpoint to Timothy’s free-floating chords and pulsing synth bassline. Somewhere in the mix, apparently, are sounds sourced from the bark of a silver birch tree, and the whole thing really does resemble a tree silhouetted at dusk—branching guitars gradually filling in the negative space, electronic crackling simulating the rustle of roosting birds.

“Thunder,” as intuitive as it is complex, offers a glimpse of new horizons. Timothy improvised the song in a single take while London electronic producer FAUZIA helmed effects pedals in real time. Stretching out, Timothy leaves behind some of his characteristic tropes to explore more abstract shapes that are bounced through FAUZIA’s delays and filters. In places boldly staccato and in others as vaporous as Nala Sinephro’s spaciest ambient jazz, it feels like a real conversation, a free-flowing give-and-take between two friends, teasing out inchoate emotions without ever pinning them down. This time, the sense of place is purely virtual, as hammering chords and booming sheets of electronic tone mimic the thunder of the title. The song exemplifies what is so rewarding about Timothy’s work: It is intimate, immediate, and, for all its ambition, easy to connect to. Whether working solo or in collaboration, seated at a Steinway or with his Zoom recorder pressed up against a tree, Timothy’s musical voice remains as singular as ever.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Duval Timothy - Meeting With a Judas Tree Music Album Reviews Duval Timothy - Meeting With a Judas Tree Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 24, 2022 Rating: 5


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