Robert Stillman ‘Reality’ LP/CD (Orindal) 3/5

Composer and multi instrumentalist Robert Stillman is a master craftsman in his art. A conjuror of sound, his method of making music involves layering sounds and textures, allowing initial themes to evolve and develop into beautiful, rich, esoteric audible tapestries.

His 2016 release “Rainbows” was one of those rare, affecting albums that enriched my life. It had a strange, beguiling beauty to it that left me totally in love with it, even if I wasn’t quite sure why.

“Reality” follows a similar path to the composer’s previous releases, with his solo, multi-tracked ensemble of one, in which he plays saxophone, clarinets, drums and piano. The difference with this release is that Stillman focuses less on predetermined compositions and more on spontaneous interaction, producing the uncanny sound of one mind in a multi-voiced conversation with itself. The subject of these discourses is often a single melody, repeated and developed across different voices in an elaborated chant form.

As Stillman puts it, he is making an attempt to “draw attention to, and unconditionally praise, the directly experienced world”. This is his ‘reality’ sensed in small scale, momentary perceptions of beauty that reveal themselves when we are awake to the present. These moments represent the well from which this album’s music draws its energy and purpose.

This kind of music is obviously of a very personal nature. And with that said, it follows that any audience of listeners (us) will either find themselves engaging with it on a spiritual, emotional, or even intellectual level, or just be left on its periphery, wondering what it’s all about. Is it possible for one person’s reality to be shared and appreciated fully by another? I would say yes, it is. It’s different, but its sentiments are the same. We empathise and understand on various levels, what it is to be human. And so I would say it is with music. We listen and may have many differing interpretations, but the source is the same.

And so it is that the aptly titled “All Are Welcome” opens this album. From this opening track, through to the final musical breaths of the closing title “Peace On Earth”, Stillman takes us on a journey of melodic introspection, skilfully crafted landscapes of sound that are melancholic yet mischievous, loquacious yet lucid, soliloquous yet spontaneous.

In the same way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on why “Rainbows” felt to me like a magnificently resplendent album, I can’t quite put my finger on why “Reality” doesn’t. But then maybe the reality is that sometimes we are touched by genius, and sometimes we are not.

Mike Gates

Read also: Robert Stillman ‘Rainbow’ (Orindal) 5/5