I came to this a fan of James Blackshaw and left a fan of Lubomyr Melnyk – so that’s a nice way for this duo album to play out. I’ve loved Blackshaw’s playing for the best part of a decade now, finding any/all of his albums and playing them over and over – he’s a good enough piano player, in fact I love his piano playing, but it only ever seems to act as contrast to his guitar work, as the light, the shade. So here, with Melnyk, a much more proficient player, bouncing ideas off Blackshaw we get to admire what both players do best.
The story goes that Blackshaw was on a festival bill with Melnyk and stunned by his performance encouraged a meeting from which, over the course of one six-hour session these four long, improvised instrumentals were taken down to create The Watchers.
It begins (Tascheter)as if a reimagining of the score for Brideshead Revisited, and from there Melnyk and Blackshaw’s instruments continue to circle one another, Melnyk almost quoting Michael Nyman lines in the album’s longest piece, the quietly thrilling Venant. And then when we get to the final track, the album’s shortest piece at just nine minutes, we have the final kiss between instruments that were courting for the half-hour leading up. So passionately entwined around one another and again there are hints of Nyman, this time it feels like elements of his wonderful score for The Piano extrapolated, redefined.
Before that the skeletal Satevis is the firmest reminder of Blackshaw’s existing recordings, copping the tone and feel of his lovely Glass Bead Game.
It’s two musicians at the height of their powers, offering nocturnal glimpses of folk-music’s answer to shredding, that is shedding inhibitions and playing beautifully, dutifully, austere and graceful – with more notes than most could conjure, but somehow almost every single one cuts to the heart. A stunner.