Ten Steps is a seven track album playing at 45 rpm. That is enough of numbers but, although it will be available in digital format, the main medium of the album is vinyl – beautiful glossy black vinyl. Dan Whitehouse is well known to folking readers as a man who is forever on the move, musically speaking. Max ZT is a virtuoso hammered dulcimer player, originally from Chicago, now living in New York and together they have made a quite extraordinary record.
Ten Steps combines Dan’s poetic and sometimes mystical lyrics and spoken word passages with Max’s multi-ethnic rhythms. The opening title track is a letter to Dan’s son in Japan – a subject he frequently returns to – set against an Armenian 10/8 dance rhythm. The steps in question involve making a big change and as the music came first the idea of a solo dance inspired the words. Behind Dan’s spoken words are background vocals by Icelandic singer Ösp Eldjárn and Gustaf Ljundggren’s synthesisers – a really beautiful piece.
In complete contrast is ‘Bury One’s Head’, inspired by the chaotic evacuation of Kabul airport mixes supposed words from a pilot with lines like “Trapped in the landing gear/nothing further I can do but whistle in the wind”. A short song that encapsulates so much. ‘Shizuka’ means quiet in Japanese and it is performed over a raga called ‘Shivranjani’ incorporating the “Devil’s chord” with background vocals by Taiga Mori-Whitehouse. ‘The Perfect Circle’ is based on a poem by Katie Whitehouse who, while being a singer, musician and poet in her own right also happens to run the From The Whitehouse agency – but I digress. The first side is brought to a close by ‘Hammerhead’, referring to a huge crane in the port of Yokohama but inspired by its more upmarket surrounding.
At the end of side one I was disappointed that it wasn’t longer. I felt that I was just getting into a piece when it was over. Fortunately, the second side comprises two longer, improvised works. The first, ‘How To Strike’, was recorded live in Bristol and is about a golfer, without club or ball, practising his swing by Tokyo bay and the second, ‘The Many Colours Of Morning’ was recorded at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, again live. There is no explanation as to how the improvisations were put together. Logically, Dan had the words and Max worked with him on stage but I could be completely wrong. Max and Dan are on tour here in October so you’ll have a chance to find out but if you can’t get to a gig you can enjoy this beautiful record.
‘Shizuka’ – live: