Trusting In The Rising Light is the fourth ECM album from Scottish singer, songwriter, harpist and guitarist Robin Williamson. Its predecessors – The Seed-at-Zero (recorded 2000), Skirting The River Road (2001) and The Iron Stone (2005) – were concerned, in different measure, with responses to the work of poets including Dylan Thomas, Henry Vaughan, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Thomas Wyatt, John Clare and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Trusting In The Rising Light, however, shifts the focus onto Robin’s own songs and sung poetry. Here we have twelve new pieces, touching and thoughtful meditations on life, love, destiny, roads travelled and untraveled, the natural world, the glittering city, and the rhythm of the sea.
Williamson, born 1943 in Edinburgh and a working musician for 55 years, is in fine voice as he enters his eighth decade, his harp and guitar playing is assured and inventive, and his creative curiosity as undiminished as the sense of wonder evident in his song texts. His ECM albums have continued to explore the nexus of roots and free experiment which made his old group, the Incredible String Band, so intriguing and his collaborations with improvising musicians have opened up new and broader possibilities in this regard. Of the singer/songwriters who came to public attention in Britain in the 1960s, none has more creatively mined traditions to shape new music.
Trusting In The Rising Light finds him working with two US musicians, who joined him in Wales for this session recorded in January 2014, at Monmouth’s famous Rockfield Studio. Mat Maneri was a key contributor to Skirting The River Road and The Iron Stone, and he has toured in Europe with Williamson. A prodigiously gifted player, Maneri can shadow Robin’s vocal ornamentation through any style of music. “Our Evening Walk”, built on a sruti-box drone and a scalar melody shared between Robin’s Hardanger fiddle and Mat’s viola, leans towards raga. “These Hands of Mine” hints at Grappelli and jazz of the swing era. “Just West of Monmouth” veers between abstract sound painting and spontaneous underlining of Williamson’s imagery. “Your Kisses”, on the other hand, has a rockier drive than most Williamson music of recent vintage, with viola tracing a feverish path against Robin’s bluesy guitar.
Maneri and Ches Smith also have a proven rapport – latterly they’ve been working together in Smith’s new trio with Craig Taborn. Ches, last heard on ECM with Tim Berne’s Snakeoil band, was brought to the Williamson session to play primarily vibraphone, as he does on the piece “Swan”, for instance, conjuring shimmering reflections of the sailing bird “joining the worlds of air and water”. But as the session progressed the drum kit came into play, perhaps most strikingly on “Night Comes Quick In LA” a duet for free drums and bardic beat poet, a song of experience with some of Robin’s tersest commentary: “What a shadow is fame / Fame pollutes the heart / Fame’s toxic fume / Fatal fame treads the old alley”. Much better to trust in the rising light, the title track suggests, and “the way of the waves, their rise and fall.”
Where most of the album incorporates improvising into the trio settings of the songs, the single entirely solo track “The Cards” was also a spontaneous gesture in the studio. Robin’s melody for the song is based upon the traditional Irish harp air “The Coolin”, and is explored on the guitar for the first time here, as fresh and as daring as the rest of this remarkable recording.