Darren Pickering Small Worlds releases ‘Volume One’

Darren Pickering is a jazz pianist, composer, educator, modular synthesist and session musician based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Apart from his Darren Pickering Small Worlds quartet, he has also recorded a number of solo electronic ambient works.

Cover art ‘In Pieces’ by Harry Harrison
Design by Unklefranc

This new jazz quartet from Ōtautahi (New Zealand) focuses on the original compositions of pianist Darren Pickering with the exception of track six, which is written by Darren and Andrew McMillan. The group’s emphasis is mostly on through-composed material combined with improvisation, and the artistic direction is determined equally by all members: Mitch Dwyer (guitar); Pete Fleming (bass) and Mitch Thomas (drums). There is a cinematic flavour to the ensemble’s sound, enhanced by the electronic textures of Darren’s ever-expanding Euro rack Modular system and selected iPad apps.

The album’s opening track is ‘Simple Ballad’, and it is pretty much as described. The space between the piano notes is filled with a soft electronic sound and subtle drumming from Mitch Thomas. There are nice complimentary guitar lines from Mitch Dwyer and the blend of his playing with that of Darren Pickering is very well balanced. ‘Moody 7’ ups the tempo slightly and the piano sound is a touch more forceful, as is the drumming. As the volume increases so does the sense of vibrancy making this a brief but enjoyable number.

‘In The Know(er)’ brings with it a softer sound with splashes of cymbal and the occasional delicate rumble on the drums. As before, the blend of piano and guitar works very well sounding thoughtful and probing. ‘Ixtapa’, as far as I can Make out, is a Mexican resort town but putting geography to one side the track of the same name opens with an electronic soundscape before the piano of Darren Pickering puts us onto a jazz footing. This number feels more introspective than those heard so far. There is space for the music to breathe, which in turn allows time for the listener to consider what is being heard and form their own thoughts on the composition.

‘Cain Song’ continues in a similar vein to track four but without being a copy. There are good bass lines for Pete Fleming, and it is good to hear them cut through. ‘Standing’ adds the compositional voice of Andrew McMillan and the sound becomes fuller without losing the spacious quality of earlier tracks. This tune is more driven with a good brisk tempo from drummer Mitch Thomas. The playing here just pulls back from being too prog rock but there is definitely a rock edge to this tune, and I like it!

‘Estonia’ takes us back to the solo writing of Darren Pickering and the capacious musical styling that abounds on this album. Unfortunately, this did have a feeling of too much of a good thing about it in that it did not really add anything new to what has already been said on the album. ‘Klazmus’, on the other hand, does feel different in that piano playing is a touch more strident, the drumming more forceful. This is a tune that has a statement to make and does so unreservedly. The album finishes with ‘Strega Tone Poem’ (see the video at the end of this post) and more electronica and a sound that is not out of place on this album.

So, is this album any good? I think that it is good but could have been better. There are some very good ideas here that could have been explored more fully and given the overall sound a greater depth. I question the use of the electronics which, although were not intrusive, did not always add something to the composition other than to infill silent notes left by the piano. I look forward to hearing more from this quartet as their sound and ideas develop.

The album is released on the Rattle label and available via Bandcamp.

Musicians: Darren Pickering – piano, modular synths; Mitch Dwyer – guitar; Pete Fleming – bass; Mitch Thomas – drums.

Tracklist: 1. Simple Ballad. 2. Moody 7. 3. In the Know(er). 4 Ixtapa. 5 Cain Song. 6. Standing. 7. Estonia. 8. Klazmus. 9. Strega Tone Poem.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.