James Blackshaw andLubomyr Melnyk - The Watchers (Important - 2013)
This is a long overdue acknowledgement of one my favourite records of the year, a collaboration between guitar visionary James Blackshaw and continuous pianist Lubomyr Melnyk. The Watchers is one of the most gorgeous, uplifting and hopelessly romantic pieces of music I have heard in a while and I visit it everyday without exception, a true marriage of two incredible musicians. I will leave it to the ever articulate Blackshaw to tell the story, It’s startling and beautiful to hear him so moved by someone else’s music considering the power his own has had over me.
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“I first met Lubomyr Melnyk at a festival called Hea Uus Heli in October 2008. We were both scheduled to play that day and I was very excited to see him perform. Before the show I bought several LPs from him and mentioned as much. Lubomyr (more than modest and courteous, as he always is) asked me what I was doing at the festival and I replied that I was also performing at the festival a little later, to which he responded "I’ll come and watch you”, before being ushered into the hall to play one of the most staggeringly sonorous and beautiful sets I’ve ever heard. It was overwhelming, full of pathos and I left the hall with those incredible overtones hanging in my ears for hours.
A couple of hours later, I was onstage when I glanced up and saw Lubomyr, true to his word, stood in the audience watching me attentively. I felt incredibly nervous. It’s not everyday you get to play for someone who has greatly inspired and influenced your own music. After the show, I packed up my guitar and came out to meet the crowd. The first person who greeted me was Lubomyr: friendly. full of enthusiasm and keen to hear about my music, my processes, the way in which I made music. Yet again, I was overwhelmed - for very different reasons.
“You have invented continuous music for guitar!”
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can’t think of an epitaph that would make me prouder.
We also spoke about collaborating that night and via e-mail a while after, but it wasn’t until January 2012, shortly after I’d moved back to Hastings, England from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Lubomyr played his first ever show in the UK at Cafe Oto that it came to fruition. John Chantler got in touch, said Lubomyr had a free day after his performance and could I come to London for a day, see what happens? He kindly agreed to record the whole thing.
We all met at the Vortex Jazz Cafe around midday. We set up, Lubomyr at the grand piano, me directly facing him with my 12-string guitar and began. I would retune at random between songs and together we would find interesting chord progressions, hints of melodies and ways in which to weave those immense overtones that Lubomyr is able to generate on the piano with those of my guitar. No more than two takes per song. Improvisation, spontaneous composition, whatever you want to call it. Either way, it truly felt as if the piano and guitar were as one - inseparable, parts of a bigger whole, a means by which for two people to make one sound. It never felt forced and never less than engaging. Lubomyr was always humble, jovial and open to ideas. The whole session lasted six hours.
I’m not a great improviser. I always want to take that raw creative element that the form brings and work upon it, to distill and refine it further. I think Lubomyr feels the same. But there is something about these recordings that would be incredibly difficult to recapture. A small moment in time, feeling perfectly and wonderfully lost within that sound.