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Darren Pickering Small Worlds - Album Review: Volume Two

07 Dec 2023 // A review by Maggie Cocco

Following their acclaimed debut, Volume One, Darren Pickering Small Worlds continues their investigation of the intersection between cinematic aesthetics and electronic textures within the framework of contemporary jazz. The Otautahi (Christchurch, New Zealand) based jazz quartet featuring Mitch Dwyer (guitar), Mitch Thomas (drums), Pete Fleming (bass), and Darren Pickering (piano), perform works composed by pianist Darren Pickering as well as re-imagined versions of select works. Volume Two represents a logical progression in Darren’s artistic and compositional vision. There is a balladic sensibility to the ensemble’s ambient jazz sound, enhanced by the subtle electronic textures of Darren’s ever-expanding collection of modular systems, synths, selected iPad apps and sonic manipulation devices

The album opens with Oneroa Bay; a short, beautiful acoustic track highlighting Pickering’s distinct penchant for space and melody. Piano and guitar circle each other with intuited swells of momentum and release before being joined by the first electronic elements of the album in the second song, Reverse. Perhaps named for the ‘rewind’ type effect featured at the start and end of the track, Reverse sounds like falling through time and space to land somewhere safe. Another through-composed journey, Reverse starts beautiful but discordant with contributions from the synths until gradually the dissonance falls away and increased consonance and major tonalities meet increased support and structure from the drums. It is fitting that these tracks should set the tone for the album as they capture the essence of Pickering’s compositional sensibilities. 

Notable tracks include Blue Mind - which features an electronic ostinato and turns Pickering’s balladic riffing into an ambient electro dreamscape - the ethereal La Perla (for Benjamin), and creative Interludes A and B. Interlude A starts with a Sabres of Paradise -esque electronic sequence that retreats with a cymbal-induced explosion into the quartet’s acoustic takeover of the sequence before becoming a full on improv sesh - all in under two minutes. Interlude B sees the return of the same sequence, slowed down and maintained throughout. It is as though Interlude A near the beginning ramps up the album while Interlude B toward the end symmetrically winds it down. 

The album features only two re-imaginings of works by other composers. Pickering cites Ryuichi Sakamoto as a notable influence, and his version of Sakamoto’s Bibo No Aozora (Beauty of a Blue Sky) rings like the re-imagining of a much loved piece. In contrast to the slow melodic original - the influence of which can be heard in Pickering’s compositions - this up-tempo arrangement features the quartet at full steam with drums on shuffle and band on jam. Meanwhile, Pickering finds an almost unrecognizable, spacious tune in the simplified shape of Adele’s melody from the popular single, Chasing Pavements. In dropping many of the repeated notes present in the original melody, the redefined melody easily comes and goes through Pickering’s ambient jazz setting. 

Recommended tracks: Reverse, Blue Mind, La Perla, Interlude A and Interlude B.

Artists you may like: Aaron Parks, Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band, The Cinematic Orchestra, EST, Floating Points, Jacob Karlzon, Kendrick Scott Oracle, Romain Collin, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Slowly Rolling Camera.

Available from November 23, 2023 at the Rattle Website as a Print-On-Demand CD or Digital Download and on all major download and streaming platforms 

Album cover over art ‘Intersection’ by Harry Harrison


About Darren Pickering Small Worlds

This Otautahi (Christchurch, NZ) based jazz quartet performs works composed by pianist Darren Pickering as well as re-imagined versions of selected works from other genres. The group’s emphasis is mostly on through-composed material combined with improvisation, and the artistic direction is determined equally by all members. There is a cinematic flavour to the ensemble’s sound, enhanced by the electronic textures of Darren’s ever-expanding collection of modular systems, synths, selected iPad apps and sonic manipulation devices.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Darren Pickering Small Worlds


Volume Two
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Volume One
Year: 2022
Type: Album

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