Euan Stevenson on his genre-bending crossover project, the Earthtones Trio

At a time of enforced confinement, pianist Euan Stevenson is making tracks – and not just figuratively – following new paths as well as retracing some he has known since his youth. The Glasgow-based pianist and composer, whose music spans jazz, classical and more, is finding the current lockdown busy enough. Like many other musicians, he has been live-streaming from home, but he is also writing for his latest collaboration, the Earthtones Trio, whose single Air in D Minor, a suitably uplifting counterblast to these dismal times, was released online last month on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The Earthtones Trio: Katherine Bryan, Euan Stevenson and Betsy Taylor

The trio sees the 39-year-old pianist join Katherine Bryan, principal flautist with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and RSNO cellist Betsy Taylor, with whom Stevenson has previously worked in the acclaimed New Focus “jazz with strings” project he runs with saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski.

The trio released their first single, a joyous take on the traditional carol O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, at Christmas. Air in D Minor, inspired by Highland scenery, is a composition Stevenson has been playing for a long while with New Focus. In the Earthtones setting, he generates a flowing piano current over which flute and cello call and respond.

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“It’s nice to have a vehicle like this to write for,” he says. “New Focus, although experimenting with classical instrumentation, was still obviously quite deep in the jazz camp.

“I don’t quite know how to label it but I suppose it’s accessible modern classical.”

While agreeing on the riverine nature of the piano undercurrent which has characterised both the trio’s singles so far, he reckons he’s gradually shifting into more adventurous rhythmic, percussive territory which Bryan and Taylor are well able to handle. “Katherine and Betsy are both great soloists in their own right and quite eclectic in their tastes.”

The trio will have plenty of scope to expand in an extensive new work, commissioned by Chamber Music Scotland and Classic Music Live Falkirk. Stevenson is originally from Falkirk and the ambiguously titled Sound Tracks is a musical exploration of the town’s extensive path network which last year saw it pick up the Ramblers award for best walking neighbourhood in the UK. Stevenson has explored this urban-rural interface since childhood, honing an appreciation of the outdoors which will inform the new composition, as it does the floating lightness of the Air. There are plans to record it for the Glasgow-based iOcco start-up label, whose founder, Ian Johnston, has been highly supportive of Stevenson’s work.

Stevenson describes the Sound Tracks music as “quite cinematic.” He has already scored for an award-winning art-house film, Voyageuse; indeed, film music should be in his blood – one of his forebears was Muir Matheson, the one-time “tsar of music for British film” who directed and conducted music for countless movies, including Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In the meantime, Stevenson has been streaming weekly Facebook recitals of his intriguing miniature improvised studies for piano he calls Mikrovisations, inspired by Bartók’s mammoth Mikrokosmos series and taking a beguilingly inventive approach to pieces by Bartók, Erik Satie, Duke Ellington and others.

Mikrovisations may well find their way on to a recording; as it is he has an album, Solo Piano Nocturnes, due out on iOcco in September. He is also arranging a forthcoming debut album for the rising Glasgow jazz chanteuse Georgia Cécile, who has been nominated for the UK Jazz vocalist class in the Jazz FM Awards due to be announced next week and who scooped “Best Vocalist” category in last year’s Scottish Jazz Awards.“I’m trying to remain optimistic and see the potential of trying to up the ante online,” says Stevenson, in the absence of live performance.

“The financial return from streaming is so pathetic. On the other hand, we have to fight our way out of this somehow, and if you perform online there’s a global audience potentially there for you.”

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