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Yonder (1631 Recordings)

Way over yonder in a minor key? Pianist and composer (and on this album, in a distant but nonetheless very present way, vocalist) Sophie Hutchings is no Woody Guthrie, nor does she confine herself to minor keys.

But you could say she does work in a way that on her newish album – it’s taken me too long to get to review this, and I apologise – looks onward, forward … to yonder, and beyond.

Assisted by violinist Jay Kong principally, and on one track cellist Peter Hollo, Hutchings explores territory which seems well travelled but in fact is rarely given this much imagination.

In Pipe Dream, on which cello and voice appear, there’s an elegance that feels natural and that would be enough for most: pretty works very well after all. But Hutchings pushes the piece past attractive to something more compelling, balancing ethereal and earthy.

On Always, on her own, and then The Road with Kong, Hutchings moves between posts, slowly aggregating moods, accumulating small tensions that don’t on their own mark, but which by the end of The Road feel like something tangible has shifted in each listener.

The interplay between Kong and Hutchings can be conversational but educated, moving the backgrounds subtly. When Hutchings’ wordless (well, it may well involve language but that’s not its purpose nor its effect) voice arrives, sounding very much like a boys’ choir high up in a distant stall, it works more as a smudging of the surface than a sharp element. The resulting picture is blurred enough to allow multiple interpretations.

As with her last album, Wide Asleep, Hutchings’ compositions move with grace, but the explorations this time take a slightly more fractured path, a way “yonder” if you will.

It’s fascinating without ever losing that sense of pleasure that comes from succumbing to the inevitable.

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