HARRIET RILEY & ALEX GARDEN – Sonder (own label HRAG01)

SonderI am always amused by a line just before Hector’s funeral in The History Boys when Frances de la Tour says “I hope he doesn’t say that he loved words”. Of course that is exactly what the vicar says and I’ve been to funerals like that. The point of that digression is that Sonder, an album of instrumentals, will appeal to anyone who loves words.

Harriet Riley plays vibraphone and Alex Garden is a violinist – an odd combination for a duo you might think – and supported by bassist Stevie Toddler, they present a dozen original compositions which lean heavily into jazz. But back to this words business. All the compositions have single word titles in a number of languages and their definitions are given. Two of the words are well known but the rest may be unknown to you. Actually that’s not entirely true as Harriet and Alex have been somewhat perverse in their naming. The final track is called ‘Through The Paddy Fields’, which breaks the pattern, and ‘Vignette’ is almost the longest piece. It should be the longest but they are perverse even when being perverse!

Of course Harriet and Alex represent the meanings of the titles in the music. The opener, ‘Vellichor’, is a jolly piece – the word means “the strange wistfulness of used bookshops” – but to me it sums up the frisson of excitement I experience when entering one. ‘Nemophilia’ works better, conjuring up delicate breezes in leaves and the feeling of peace in a forest. ‘Phosphenes’ perfectly captures the process of waking up and ‘Nefarious’ is a mischievous, dancing tune.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Sonder and it’s an album I’d listen to while working if my working time wasn’t spent listening to other albums. The title means “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”, which is an interesting point of view to take. I suspect that’s exactly what Harriet is thinking on the cover. The word is a neologism, of course, but a real word for all that.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.co/harrietrileyalexgarden/

‘Vellichor’ – live:


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