Dan Brown assembles Glasgow jazz scene supergroup for debut album

The tracks on composer and multi-instrumentalist Dan Brown’s new album were inspired by everything from cloud inversions to rusting tractors, writes Jim Gilchrist

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

Hovering somewhere between a stretched EP and a full-blown album, multi-instrumentalist Dan Brown’s debut recording, Rewilding, is an intriguingly varied and eloquent response to the natural magnificence of both Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, as well as his native Lake District. It’s also yet another showcase for Glasgow’s seemingly relentlessly bountiful young jazz and traditional music scene, for which the city’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is such a catalyst.

Kendal-raised Brown, who graduated from the RCS three years ago and still lives in Glasgow, considers himself primarily a pianist, but on the album also plays tenor guitar, accordion and clarinet, and is joined on some of the seven tracks by eminent players from the Glasgow scene, including saxophonist Matt Carmichael, fiddler Laura Wilkie, drummer Stephen Henderson and trumpeter Joshua Elcock.

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Brown, 25, agrees that the recording, with its elements of jazz, folk and more, reflects Glasgow’s creative hotbed. “It was humbling to work with these amazing musicians. I think in lockdown, everybody was freer than they would be usually so you didn’t feel so bad asking them to get involved.”

The fact that the music was, as his sleeve notes state, “recorded In flats across Glasgow and Ayr,” is also a reflection of the domestic recording skills honed by so many musicians during lockdown (Brown, along with 16 others, featured in the notable “quarantine big band” assembled online by fellow musician and flat-mate Elcock last year and video-edited by Brown).

So Carmichael, whose own debut album, Where Will the River Flow, has been making waves, plays a superb, moody tenor sax solo in the atmospheric Watchers of the Waves, which sounds rather as if it was recorded in a sea cave. Greenside, named for the Kendal street in which Brown grew up, with its view of the fells, features the vivaciously darting fiddle of Laura Wilkie, who plays with outfits such as the Kinnaris Quintet and jazz-fusion band Fat-Suit.

Brown’s rich soundscapes are largely inspired by the landscapes he encounters during his forays as a walker, climber and fell-runner. Above the Clouds, which opens the album, recalls an experience of spectacular mountaintop cloud inversion, while the brief, almost meditative solo piano interlude, Tractors of South Uist, was inspired by the rusting agricultural machinery he encountered on the island. The contrastingly rocking Seven Spires, with flautist Tom Campbell-Paine, celebrates a Patagonian ascent by the climber Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll – who apparently capped his gruelling traverse of seven peaks by playing tin whistle.

The closing, pastoral-sounding Seal Song sees Brown’s layered piano ostinato, tenor guitar, accordion and warm-toned clarinet joined by the distant brass chorus of Elcock’s trumpet and flugelhorn. Brown says he got the idea for its central jig on a beach near Ullapool.

The pianist, who also plays in Glassworks – a “slightly introspective” duo with vocalist Emilie Boyd, the Elcock big band and his own jazz-folk crossover project, Dreaming of White Horses, may be flexing his musical muscles with Rewilding’s instrumental combinations, but, he reckons, “I’m definitely a piano player at heart”.

The eclectic nature of his music reflects the fact that, although he studied on the RCS jazz course, where he was taught by two well-known jazz pianists, Paul Harrison and Tom Gibbs, “the longer I stay in Scotland, the more I graduate towards Scottish trad music”.

His folk inclinations, however, were pretty ingrained, growing up as he did listening to his accordionist father’s Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain records. His father also makes tenor guitars, as played by Brown and also by Mike Vass, whose compositions, such as In the Wake of Neil Gunn, have been an influence on the younger musician: “It made me aware of that kind of trad and that style of writing. I wrote Greenside on tenor guitar and recorded it back home on one of my dad’s guitars, so it’s a nice kind of circle.”

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