A Short Diary

Sebastian Rochford, Kit Downes

EN / DE
This “short diary (of loss)” as drummer Sebastian Rochford calls it is offered as “a sonic memory, created with love, out of need for comfort.” The album is dedicated to Rochford’s father, Aberdeen poet Gerard Rochford (1932-2019) and to his family. Seb, one of ten siblings, wrote most of the music for this album shortly after Gerard’s death and delivers it here, in performances of deep feeling and hymn-like clarity, together with pianist Kit Downes. The final wistful piece, “Even Now I Think Of Her” was composed by Gerard Rochford. Sebastian explains: “It’s a tune my dad had sung into his phone and sent me. I forwarded this to Kit’s phone. He listened, and then we started.” The poignancy of A Short Diary will touch many listeners.
Dieses "kurze Tagebuch (über den Verlust)", wie Schlagzeuger Sebastian Rochford es nennt, repräsentiert für ihn "eine vertonte Erinnerung, die mit Liebe und aus dem Bedürfnis nach Trost heraus entstanden ist." Das Album ist Rochfords Vater, dem Dichter Gerard Rochford aus Aberdeen (1932-2019), und seiner Familie gewidmet. Seb, eines von zehn Geschwistern, schrieb den größten Teil der Musik für dieses Album kurz nach Gerards Tod und trägt sie hier zusammen mit dem Pianisten Kit Downes vor, in nachdenklichen Aufführungen von hymnischer Klarheit. Das letzte wehmütige Stück "Even Now I Think Of Her" wurde von Gerard Rochford komponiert. Sebastian erklärt: "Es ist eine Melodie, die mein Vater in sein Telefon gesungen und mir geschickt hatte. Ich habe es an Kits Telefon weitergeleitet. Er hat es sich angehört, und dann legten wir los.“ Die Ergriffenheit von A Short Diary ist bewegend. Seb, der sich u.a. mit der experimentellen Jazzgruppe Polar Bear einen Namen gemacht hat, spielte außerdem auf Andy Sheppards ECM Alben Trio Libero, Surrounded By Sea und Romaria Schlagzeug.
Featured Artists Recorded

February 2020, Waverley, Aberdeen

  • 1This Tune Your Ears Will Never Hear
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    03:52
  • 2Communal Decisions
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    01:57
  • 3Night Of Quiet
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    04:56
  • 4Love You Grampa
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    06:15
  • 5Our Time Is Still
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    03:32
  • 6Silver Light
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    04:55
  • 7Ten Of Us
    (Sebastian Rochford)
    07:08
  • 8Even Now I Think of Her
    (Gerald Rochford)
    04:14
His debut as a leader for ECM, ‘A Short Diary’, sees him composing eight delicate, hymn-like meditations on the death of his father, performed by the pianist Kit Downes and occasionally augmented by Rochford’s sensitive percussion.
John Lewis, The Guardian
 
Beeindruckend-elementare Musik, welche man zwei anderen aussergewöhnlichen ‘home recordings’ des Labels ECM an die Seite stellen kann, den Solo-Piano-Werken ‘At Home’ von Misha Alperin, und ‘The Melody At Night With You’ von Keith Jarrett.
Michael Engelbrecht, Deutschlandfunk
 
Despite a conspicuous wistful quality, ‘A Short Diary’ has an unmistakable warmth. Downes frames Rochford's compositions penetratingly, while the drummer's work is characterized by subtlety, understatement, an effortless flow, and a unique rhythmic sensibility.
Karl Ackermann, All About Jazz
 
The virtuosity on show here is not of technique but of something deeper and more valuable: the ability to take the deepest, most personal feelings and turn them into wordless music in which everyone can share. This is music without rhetoric or ostentation, in which delicacy and strength find an ideal balance. A quiet masterpiece.
Richard Williams, The Blue Moment
 
‘A Short Diary’ ist eine intime Hörerfahrung. Der Schmerz ist omnipräsent. Gleichzeitig ist es eine trostspendende Platte, da sie zeigt, dass die Kraft der Musik der Endgültigkeit des Todes etwas Kraftvolles entgegensetzen kann. Kit Downes ist als Hauptakteur dieser Platte besonders Respekt zu zollen. Diese Stücke so zu spielen, die in ihnen eingegrabene Trauer stellvertretend zu vertonen, dürfte keine Kleinigkeit gewesen sein. Er legt die Klarheit der Kompositionen offen, beschädigt nichts und erzielt so die maximale Wirkung. Das ist wirklich ganz groß.
Sebastian Meißner, Sounds and Books
 
Rochford’s careful yet characterful piano writing brings out Downes’ tender side; the pianist realizes Rochford’s compositional voice simply and humbly, as a conduit for Rochford’s distinct melodic style. ‘Short Diary’ rarely relaxes into a comfortable emotional space, though its mood is consistent in its muted qualities. […] it’s as honest a depiction of grieving as you might hope to hear.
Hugh Morris, Pitchfork
 
If tears are the silent language of grief, Rochford captures its reverberating waves on a tribute to his poet father Gerard. Revealing an unseen side to the Polar Bear post-jazzer, his percussive meanderings lie deep in Manfred Eicher’s crystalline mx, allowing pianist Downes’ austere melodics and unexpected transformations full expression. As with Downes’ 2022 chamber doozy ‘Vermillion’, its subtle power amplifies with every listen.
Andy Cowan, Mojo
 
They prove themselves to be sympathetic partners, treating the songs with sensitivity and respect – thankfully, as Rochford relies on them to convey his music’s emotional heft, with his own instrument sparsely used at best. The minimalist melodies of songs like ‘Our Time is Still’ and ‘Night of Quiet’ wander, not because they lack drive or purpose, but because they’re emulating grief and confusion as a family tries to figure out how to reconcile the loss they’ve suffered. The album ends with the classically inclined ‘Even Now I Think of Her,’ a song composed by the elder Rochford, recorded on his phone, and sent to his son, who processed it through Downes’ fingers and his own low-key drum work. At thirty-six minutes, ‘A Short Diary’ is indeed brief, but Rochford doesn’t need more time to get his ruminations on love, loss, and family across effectively.
Michael Toland, The Big Takeover
 
Ein zurückhaltendes, ruhiges, stilles Album, das auch so gedacht ist. Der schottische Schlagzeuger Sebastian Rochford hat die Stücke im Andenken an seinen dichtenden Vater komponiert und sie gemeinsam mit dem Pianisten Kit Downes in seinem Elternhaus aufgenommen. Für die Atmosphäre war dieses Setting von großer Bedeutung, denn es vermittelt die Intimität eines wohlwollenden und dankbaren Gedenkens, die dem Duo mit wenigen, doch jederzeit stimmigen Tönen gelingt.
Ralf Dombrowski, Audio
 
L’ensemble de ce ‘court journal’ baigne constamment dans une douce mélancolie, que la grande lisibilité de l’ecriture rend palpable à tout instant. Les deux hommes délivrent une musique  naturellemment intimiste, apaisée, sensible, à  l’atmosphère parfois religieuse, traitant le silence comme un ami bienveillant. […] ‘A Short Diary’ est une œuvre limpide, un hommage retenu aux souvenirs de vie, d’amour, de famille, de communions, qui prend forme avec une extreme délicatesse.
Jean-Pierre Vidal, Jazz Magazine
 
Music has the power to heal and cleanse, and this is something that Sebastian Rochford has learned and been able to convey to others in this very personal musical diary. The lesson is shared two-fold on this tender and touching album that focusses on Rochford the composer and Rochford the drummer and interpreter of the written score. […]  The music was composed shortly after his father’s passing, and the melodies brought forth by Rochford’s contemplations at the piano reveal a touching sense of loss and vulnerability that is deeply affecting. In a gesture of complete trust, after composing the music Rochford gives the pieces over to pianist Kit Downes who brings to life the sometimes haunting and often beautiful compositions. […] At the piano Kit Downes brings a quiet contemplation to the music that allows the compositions to gently unfold. His total understanding of Rochford’s intentions lifts the musical notation off the pages, imbuing each with feelings that are almost tangible. So much so that the drummer doesn’t play at all on three of the pieces, leaving Downes to convey the feelings inherent in the music with a delicate touch that borders on the gossamer light on ‘Our Time Is Still’ and Night Of Quiet’. […] a very beautiful album that is tender and heart-warming.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views
 
Written and recorded at his family home following the death of his father, the poet Gerard Rochford, the pieces that make up this short album might be a meditation on grief; and whilst some of the tunes are as somber as that suggests, there’s no grief without love: there’s also touches of joy. It is a thoughtful, sensitive record, full of tender moments.  
Patrick Hadfield, London Jazz News
 
Un album de la mémoire, dépouillé et profound, dense et retenu, qui résonne longtemps dans les oreilles.
Jean-Claude Vantroyen, Le Soir
 
‘A Short Diary’, le divine mélancolie de Sebastian Rochford […] En osmose avec le pianist Kit Downes, le batteur indo-écossais dévoile en musique un journal intime d’une tendresse infinite […]’A Short Diary’ est un album dépouillé, d’une sensibilité à fleur de peau, une sorte de meditation sur la tristesse, le maque, le silence, la reconnaissance et les souvenirs apaisés que provoquent en lui le deuil de son père Gerard Rochford.
Catherine Carette, Radio France FIP
 
Präzise rhythmische Parts, tastende Töne, tiefe Melancholie: Rochford hat Kompositionen erschaffen, die wie Kirchenchoräle im Popformat anmuten, unverhohen traurig sind und doch von einer schwebenden Eleganz. ‘Love You Grampa’ könnte auch ein Instrumental von Radiohead sein. […] eine der tiefschürfendsten ECM-Platten der letzten Jahre.
Jan Paersch, Jazzthing
 
Quiet celebrations of a life and of shared family bonds. They also stand out for the strength of their composition, all by Rochford himself, who wrote them at his father’s piano. […] Throughout, the dynamics of each piece are important, their gentle delivery and intense evocation requiring the subtlest of touches, provided empathetically by an ever thoughtful Downes, Rochford’s drumming often minimal in its presence. The role of label boss Manfred Eicher in mixing this album is rightly noted, his sensitivity crucial to its overall feel. Rochford might be best known as a drummer, but this quietly fine set proves his worth as a composer. It is an extraordinarily personal document, an eloquent testimony, and one that bears repeated listening. It is also undoubtedly one of ECM’s finest releases of recent years.
Simon Adams, Jazz Journal
 
‘A Short Diary’, viaggio in otto tappe registrato in Scozia, offre momenti di magnifica rarefazione, un'atmosfera sospesa che fa respirare il silenzio.
Guido Festinese, Il Manifesto
 
In the form of an audio diary, Rochford thoughtfully and exquisitely engages with various stages of the grieving process […] The drummer’s memorable succinct child-like themes are fertile springboards for the outstanding pianist Kit Downes, who delicately investigates them with a sharpened spatial awareness and calmly imaginative poise while the drummer-leader takes on a modest supporting role for the large part. ‘A Short Diary’ is made up of tenderly reflective, fragile elements, at times sounding  something like a cross  between the more tranquil, sparing moments of Debussy’s piano works with Leonard Cohen’s sombre hymns, yet with a ray of light peeking through the solemn mist.  
Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise (Editor’s choice)
 
Too unexpected for background music, the thoughtful, precise sounds of this respectful and warm duo demand attention; the overtones are as compelling as Downes’ minimalist keyboard strikes. Rochford’s judicious cymbal and suggestion of brush add just the right touches.
Carlo Wolff, Downbeat
 
Es ist eine Sammlung von hymnenhaften Herbstzeitlosen – introvertierte und von zarter Anmut umhüllte Miniaturen, die er in perfekter Zweisamkeit mit dem Pianisten Kit Downes eingespielt hat. Trotz ihrer Melancholie wirkt diese von Stille getragene Musik wie ein Nordlicht über dem nebenlverhangenen schottischen Hochland. […] So traurig und doch so unglaublich schön.
Rudolf Amstutz, Jazz’n’more
 
Les huit pièces du album sont introspectives, poétiques et d’une lisibilité totale. […] Les chansons sont douces et merveilleusement écrites, privilégiant le toucher du pianist à un jeu de batterie discret où les balais prennent le dessus. […] un disque sensible et plein de tendresse pour celui auquel il est dédié.   
Jean-Pierre Goffin, Jazz Mania
 
Persönlicher geht’s nimmer: Der Schlagzeuger Sebastian Rochford nimmt Abschied von seinem verstorbenen Vater. Von den Drums ist nicht allzuviel zu hören, dafür dringt umso eindringlicher das Klavier von Rochfords Duo-Partner, Kit Downes, ins Gehör. Oft sucht Downes weniger die Klangfülle  des Instruments in Gänze abzubilden, als ihr Flüstern. […] So entstehen Klanglandschaften,die stilistisch kaum zu definieren sind, sich irgendwo zwischen Jazzidiom und Klassik bewegen. Es ist erstaunlich, wie es ihm gelingt, jenseits bekannter Klänge und eingefahrener Hörgewohnheiten ein Gefühl für Raum und Zwischenraum zu vermitteln.  
Tom Fuchs, Piano News
This “short diary (of loss)”, as drummer Sebastian Rochford calls it, is offered as “a sonic memory, created with love, out of need for comfort.” It is dedicated to Rochford’s father, Aberdeen poet Gerard Rochford, 1932-2019, and to his family. Seb, one of ten siblings, wrote most of the music shortly after Gerard’s death and delivers it here, in performances of deep feeling and hymn-like clarity, together with pianist Kit Downes. The final wistful piece, “Even Now I Think Of Her” was composed by Gerard Rochford. Sebastian explains:  “It’s a tune my dad had sung into his phone and sent me. I forwarded this to Kit. He listened, and then we started.”
 
Rochford recalls how, after his father passed away, “music just seemed to come to me, sing inside me every day, sometimes even as I woke. Though initially I felt conflict in writing and hadn't wanted to, in it's coming, it realised in me a sense of comfort and also a way to sense physically what I was feeling.  So in a musical way, it became my diary of this time.” As far as diaries go, this may be a quietly reflective one; however, it is also imbued with striking melodic themes and poignant chord progressions, replete with many nuances and different shades of tone and timbre spread across a simple grand piano and the bare necessities of a drum-kit.
 
The album was recorded at Rochford’s childhood home in Scotland – its intimate acoustics captured comprehensively and with crystalline transparency. “As my parents always loved music being played at home and we would not be able to keep the house, I thought to record the music there, also as a sonic memory of where I grew up, played on my grandfather's piano, gifted to us by my father's brother, a tribute to the wonderful, kind hearted man I called my dad.”
 
As the drummer wrote the music, sitting at his father’s piano, he took notes in a manuscript book, making sure to record, in words, the details of atmosphere and ambiance that can’t be expressed through scores. “All the music has sheet music and as the tone is an important part of the feeling, Kit and I spoke about achieving certain dynamics, as I felt if the piano went past certain dynamics, the feeling was lost for me. The writing of the music was also a comfort for me at this time, so I wanted the music we recorded to reflect that.”
 
For the opening, hymnal “This Tune your ears will never hear” in his manuscript book Seb jotted down: “Like a child calling out alone into an empty void”. Regarding “Night of Quiet”, performed on piano solo, Rochford points out the setting: “It was late. I could hear people speaking in the other room. I played the minimum, just to know the notes, very quietly.” And for “Love You Grampa”, where common chords and hymnal tendencies return to be further investigated, the drummer-composer again emphasises the importance of family bonds. These thoughts transcend the music, and the music returns the favour.
 
Rochford approached Manfred Eicher – with whom he had previously worked playing drums on Andy Sheppard’s albums Trio Libero (2012), Surrounded By Sea (2015) and Romaria (2018) – and asked if he’d be open to producing A Short Diary. “I feel Manfred understands how to concentrate and intensify what the artists he has chosen to work with are aiming to achieve, allowing them to bloom. Due to the circumstances of how this album came together and my previous experience of him, I felt he would understand and be sensitive to this music, as this was vital to me.”
 
A meticulous production process in collaboration with Eicher, who then mixed the album in Munich, followed: “Listening to Manfred’s mixes was like he was showing me what I had made and hearing the music for the first time. To be honest, I don't even know how he made the music sound the way it does, but I felt he had intensified and brought into focus everything about it.”