I love a musician who wears his heart on his sleeve. A musician who defies any trends in music, any necessity for genre, any need for a commercial leaning. Robert Stillman is one such musician. If I was to try and categorise his music I’d say it’s an ethereal jazz/folk/ambient/experimental hybrid with a gorgeously shameless dose of melancholia. And yet therein lies the strange beauty of this album; “Rainbow” is surprisingly uplifting. Maybe this is in part due to the fact that it makes me so happy listening to it, knowing that few artists can summon such beauty from the depths of the soul to create a living, breathing, timeless masterpiece such as this. Or maybe it’s just the fact that the music sways like an errant wind, or an endlessly flowing river, seemingly care-free in its abandonment to what will be in that particular moment of sound, time and space. Stillman’s music is full of life, energy and soulful expression. Instantly sorrowful yet joyous all in the same breath.
So who is Robert Stillman? Well, he is a composer and multi instrumentalist hailing from Portland, Maine, USA. A move to Boston to study jazz introduced him to formative teachers George Russell, Danilo Perez and George Garzone. It was there that he also met like-minded colleagues and planted the seeds for future collaborations in bands such as Glass Ghost, Caveman and We Go Magic. Upon arriving in New York in 2011, his circle widened bringing new work with Luke Temple, Grizzly Bear and Chris and Kurt Weisman. Stillman then relocated to England, working in bands led by Kit Downes and Tom Skinner. His musical journeys can only have added to the diversity and depth of sound he successfully employs throughout “Rainbow”. Stillman shares what seems to be a very personal journey on these tunes, inviting the listener into his world, allowing us to observe through his music his last four years of life; one of love, birth, and death, a thoughtful and meditative process that rewards the listener with its depth and generosity. The album is written and performed in its entirety by the multi instrumentalist, and is built around dedications to his family and to the surroundings of his current home in East Kent.
What Stillman does so well, is to create a fragile dreamworld within his music where darkness meets light and vice-versa. His complex arrangements bely an honesty that is rarely heard these days, poetic in its beauty. Bringing together ideas and building stylistic melodies upon one another, he uses piano, keyboards, drums and tenor saxophone, to highlight just a few instruments, creating thought-provoking pieces of music. Subtle and beautifully crafted, each moment is a work of art unto itself. His sax playing throughout these recordings is remarkably touching. Earthy and melancholic, it speaks a language that all great musicians convey; one that allows the listener a fleeting glimpse into his own soul, through listening to someone else’s soulful outpouring. Full of spirit, unafraid to question himself and the listener, for me, it truly feels as if I’m walking alongside the composer on his journey, battling against the breeze on the open fields of the Kent countryside, taking shelter aboard his blue station wagon, Warren, or sitting in his living room, consciously sharing a moment of reflection. His visionary music brings the outsider in, with warmth and compassion. As the sleeve art/ words by Thich Nhat Hanh suggest; “To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.”