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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Holding Hands - Dancer in The Light (s/r, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Holding Hands is an octet comprising some of the best-known improvisers in the UK. They are Chris Dowding on trumpet, Raph Clarkson on trombone and electronics. Dee Byrne on alto sax and electronics, Rob Milne on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Ben Higham on tuba, Martin Pyne on vibraphone, Mark Howe samples, electronics, and guitar, and Andrew Lisle on drums. Their EP The Dancer in The Light features the same track in a collection of re-mixes and versions.

The original track ‘Dancer in The Light’ was written by Dowding and dedicated to the Vermont-based composer Kathy Eddy. The intention is that the piece is different every time, especially in the second half of the piece, where there is plenty of scope for improvisation around a series of open repeats.

For different musicians and the full ensemble to explore a single composition and discover different interpretations, approaches, and ways of developing the music, particularly in the freer second half, is a rare opportunity. The piece itself is a flexible, variable number, so it is different when played by different musicians every time in any case. On the EP, versions, and re-mixes alternate, and each sounds so different that in some places, the original track seems so heavily overlaid with the players’ interpretation and lost until the essence re-emerges and the underlying harmonies remind the listener of the inspirational source.

The EP explores variation through versions ranging from the full octet version to interestingly worked solo versions, notably the third track ‘Dancer in Light’ where Matthew Bourne takes a deliciously sweet melodic variation on the piano and detours into classical interpretation, or the incredibly fluid and beautiful fifth track ‘The Dancer in Light’ where Noah Horne plays a solo harp version. Track seven, ‘The Dancer in Light’ on tack piano by Zac Gvi demonstrates a completely different style and interpretation of the same track on the same instrument as that on track three. The final track is a darker, serious version, with searing contrasts offered by effects. It opens the thought there may still be more variations within the composition. It is a brave act to release an EP based around a single composition but in this case, Holding Hands demonstrates there are many ways to interpret music.

This is interesting listening and the opportunity not only to hear top-rung musicians interpreting a track in different ways but also the singularly unique versions provided by the soloists.