Kindred. Shorn of its usual coupling with the word Spirit the lone word Kindred, naked and unadorned, stands and sounds, paradoxically, a little unfamiliar—somewhat archaic. But through this paring of excess, the vital and root meanings of Kindred—those of relationship, of family, of common affinity, and of descent—are more visibly re-exposed. Kindred, the product of Mike Nock (piano) and Laurenz Pike (drum kit), drops the inessential in an intimate album cohabited with all of these essential connotations. Although Kindred holds an invitation—find out more at www.mikenock.com—this prompt sits modest and unobtrusive, all discreet lower-case letters, on the bottom inner left cover of the CD, a marginal placement that makes it seem only reasonable to defer investigation of this link, and instead to look and listen first to what is more immediately presented.
Mclean Stephenson’s front cover photograph shows a single cloud, a detached floating coalescence, suspended between sky above and mountains below. The cloud, a transience shaped by the elements of earth, water, air, and the sun’s fire, almost entirely defined by its qualities of evanescent mutability, seems to stand as a graphic representation of the individual pieces of music on the album, an impression bolstered by the non-linear, floating, and cloud-like arrangement of the 12 song titles, blue and white, on the back cover. This cloud, part lit, reflects the sun on an aspect of its superior surface, whilst its base, part shadowed, has not quite merged with the haze of the mountains beneath. Standing solid, immovable and earthed in counterpoint to this singular and separated cloud, the mountains seem rooted in their vast, dark and indefinable foundations. They span the entire horizontal extent of the photograph and extend, apparently limitless, downwards. Zen Master Tozan: The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.
Just like the cloud above—apparently apart but actually dependent for its very existence on the body of the mountains beneath, so the compositions on this album are inseparable from the musicians that have shaped and released them. This relationship is captured on the left inner sleeve photograph that depicts a moment of Nock and Pike’s joint music making. Nock’s head, his ear at the centre, is bowed to the keyboard—more listening than looking—whilst his forearms and hands, the most brightly illumined area in this picture, are a centre of light, all animal, active, alive. And, in this same moment, inhabiting his own centre within Nock’s hinterland, Pike plays, eyes closed, absorbed, with his head also inclined into their shared space of listening. The intimate qualities of this interaction, their mutual regard—for listening, for their music, and for one another—are palpable.
The right inner cover of the CD box teases with a little puzzle: here again is the Laurenz Pike of the front cover, but there is now also another Pike, this one a Laurence, who, with Mike Nock wrote the album’s music, and who, with Ivan Vinzintin, produced the album. The dual identities of Laurenz/Laurence recall Schrödinger’s cat, hovering indefinably between two possible states whilst simultaneously existing in both, and Pike confirms that he likes the ambiguity and dual identity, the freedom from the strictly labeled, that this gives him, with Laurenz being his preferred name for his improvisational and solo contexts. This freedom from the labeled, from the defined, carries over into the music that refuses to condense into a particular style. Relevant to this is that whilst Kindred is improvised music, the improvisation itself carries a proviso, refuses to exactly square, with the addition of Pike’s subtle electronic manipulations throughout the record—such as the razorial reversing segue of the piano’s resonance at the end of the title track.
It also becomes apparent here that in regard to the ‘when’ of the recording, cited as Winter/Spring 2011, Season is given greater significance than specific dates or particular months. The reference to season recurs in the titles of Track 7, Spring and Track 11, Solstice. Seasonality, and by implication our connectedness to the larger cycles of the natural world, is also evident in the only other release by Mike Nock with which I am familiar, in the time of sakura (Move Records, 2007) and occurs in the title track, a seasonal reference to Cherry Blossom time; in Cloudless Blue with its evocation of Spring; and in Green Cycle, explicitly a meditation on the environment.
Kindred’s ‘information page’ also acknowledges, both formally and informally, the others who have contributed to the project: William Bowden for mastering; Jack Ladder, whose uncluttered and spacious design makes more of less; Mclean Stephenson for his photographs; and the triple contributions of Ivan Vinzintin in recording, mixing, and production. Each of these individuals is designated by their full name, as is appropriate to the contributions of professionals. There is also a less formal Thanks to: Yvonne, Luke, Tim, Will, Yuri, Sally, Zeus. This informality does not at all imply a contribution any less significant; rather, the use here of just their first names is a direct and personal address, and is resonant with the intimate familiarity of the musicians’ photograph. From the liner notes of in the time of sakura I recollected that Yuri is the first name of Mike Nock’s wife. Zeus’ name resurfaces in the title of Track 2, Zeus’ Dream, and so I surmised, partially correctly, that these names were a list of close relations, the kin of kindred. Zeus actually happens to be Laurenz’ cat (a cat kin!)—suitably named for his honorary appearance on this album, as Zeus is also the appellation of that Ancient Greek ‘cloud-collector’, the God of Sky and Thunder.
12 tracks, a round dozen. As the product of an ex-Triosk drummer and a musician of the Fourth Way this seems just right. The title track Kindred opens the bracket and, reinforcing the sense of kinship so generated, Track 12, 4SL, a dedication from Laurenz, even whilst closing the album, keeps it open. (Incidentally, here Laurenz manages yet again to double his meaning, his adroit 4 invoking the dual meanings of for and four, the latter clearly referencing the Fourth Way.) Adrift (yet anchored) within these brackets are references that variously pivot (or, to use another Laurenzian elision, that PVT) on the past and on the present. The past is directly held in the titles of Le Primitif and The Old Times, re-invoked in All Most Blues and returns again within that repository of the past, the unconscious, in Zeus’ Dream, Sleepwalking and in the fantastically named Mike Battles The Hydra. The present is anchored to time and place, that is, to season (Solstice, Spring) and location (By Sea and Satori No Mado). Past and present: whatever is held in these musicians’ collected histories, the conscious and subconscious substrata, the mountains of the past, cannot not spill out into these improvisations, the cumulus of the present. The Fourth Way, Nock’s band in the 60s was named at least partially in reference to Gurdjieff’s ‘Fourth Way’: an approach to living that sought to integrate practices of body, mind and emotions, whilst eschewing the permanent forms and institutions associated with religious tradition. It seems appropriate that the name Fourth Way should continue in association with Nock (his music is published by Fourth Way Music and kindred released on his own label is FMW003) because Nock’s way, the way of improvisation, seems the antithesis of fixed form.
This is a skillfully edited and well-balanced album that invites repeated listening. As suggested by the photograph of the musicians, Nock’s lyricism is foreground and gifts a narrative quality to each piece with the suggestiveness of their titles a point of departure: it is difficult, for example, not to envision an element of feline gamboling in Zeus’ Dream, and difficult also not to hear the sea’s susurrus in the cymbals’ wash in the roiling waves of By Sea. Pike’s textural and nuanced drumming variously augments, embellishes, diverges from and comments upon these narrative trajectories, unpredictable journeys that are by turns humourous, poignant, jaunty and profound. Whilst the evocative title of Track 4, Mike Battles The Hydra, might suggest that this is a solo contribution from Nock, it is anything but, and in fact this track is representative of well-poised balance of labours and musical execution throughout the whole album. The defeat of the Hydra was one of the labours of Heracles (also known later, in Laurencian Mode, as Hercules). The Hydra of Lerna was the ancient Greek many-headed Water Beastie (in Tasmania this is currently known as The Hydro), possessed not just of withering Stink Breath, but the nightmarish capacity to grow two heads for each one severed. Heracles, unable to slay the monster independently, enlisted the aid of his nephew and charioteer Iolaus, who complemented Heracles’ increasingly desperate acts of decapitation by rapidly cauterizing the neck stumps with a firebrand. Thus they triumphed. This is surely a tale of kinship if ever there was one, and the music mirrors this cooperation: Nock starts by running simultaneously up and down, confusing the Hydra. Just as the photograph on the inner cover shows Nock’s hands reflected, his music of two hands sounds doubled to four—his riposte to the Hydra’s multiplication trick. Pike, tagged, joins the fray; separately and together they parry and thrust, descaling the writhing reptile, with Pike enjoying the final and definitive stumping.
When teaching yoga I generally enjoin students to learn to practice without adding unnecessary distraction, and this includes adding music as background. But I made a rare exception for myself with this album, deciding to practice whilst maintaining each posture for the duration of a track. I had thought I would be undisturbed—both in my experiment and in my inconsistency—and had settled well in, was established in Sirsasana (headstand) immersed in Sleepwalking, when the door opened unexpectedly. It was Sarah, an ex-student and now fellow teacher, arriving late to practice. She listened, smiling, and averred hesitantly that she thought it was perhaps Keith Jarrett. (She had a background in music before turning to yoga, and for someone who had never before encountered Mike Nock her guess was about as close as anyone’s could be: Jarrett, a friend of Nock’s, was also influenced by Gurdjieff’s teaching at around the same time in the 1960s.) Embarrassed, I offered to turn the music off. ‘Don’t’, she said. ‘It’s really lovely.’ And it was. So we practiced together. Kindred.
Mike Nock on the web www.mikenock.com
More information about Kindred on jazz-planet.com