Andrew Keeling - Spiritus album review

A four-track classical round-up from Crimson composer Andrew Keeling.

Andrew Keeling Spiritus front cover

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Well-known in prog circles particularly for orchestrating Robert Fripp’s soundscapes on The Wine Of Silence, his work with Tim Bowness and his own group Otherworld, Andrew Keeling has also written for viola ensemble Fretwork and percussionist Evelyn Glennie. As a youth, Keeling was inspired by progressive rock in its 70s heyday and his music thrives on the energy of complexity, change and dynamics. But as Peter Davison writes in the sleevenotes, this is no fusion music, so don’t expect anything along the lines of the orchestral Pink Floyd, not least because this is written for small ensembles. But considering that classical music was an important influence in early prog, one could say that those influences are returned here, with thanks.

And despite the title and cover, which features a lone tree in an autumnal landscape, this is no mushy, airbrushed easy listening classical-lite, but a series of pithy, beautifully wrought chamber and choral pieces dating from between 1993 and 2006. Unquiet Earth is an ebullient piano trio, shimmering and spiky in places but largely tonal. Its exquisite melodic twists and rhythmic shifts are reminiscent of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür, a contemporary of Keeling, who played in 1970s prog rock group In Spe.

The shorter piano quartet, Reclaiming Eros, is a close relative and there are moments towards the end when the melodies become more expansive, recalling the string quartets of Vaughan Williams and Delius. O Ignis Spiritus is a richly textured a cappella composition sung by the Hilliard Ensemble, with texts by Hildegard of Bingen, Blake and Wordsworth. A six-part solo piano suite, Blue Dawn is in a more contemplative mood. Part three,The House Of Eros, has a sombre, near static structure, while Forget Me Not closes the piece on a poignant note.

Mike Barnes is the author of Captain Beefheart - The Biography (Omnibus Press, 2011) and A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s (2020). He was a regular contributor to Select magazine and his work regularly appears in Prog, Mojo and Wire. He also plays the drums.