Not many albums these days force the recipient to stop what they’re doing, put their things down and actually listen – but Jon Thorne has achieved just such a distinction with Watching The Well, which is by all accounts a remarkable piece of work.
It doesn’t take long to cast its spell, achieving the sort of spaciousness you might expect to hear from some of the ECM jazz artists whose influence is freely sprinkled around the music. Jan Garbarek‘s work with the Hilliard Ensemble is one more obvious source of inspiration, but so too it seems are the early guitar works of Pat Metheny.
Watching The Well is a suite in 12 movements, with classical dimensions but progressing more as a concept album might. It is written as a gift to expert double bassist Danny Thompson, Thorne’s mentor, but this is far from being a display piece for the instrument, giving it lines of extreme subtlety that are complemented by lines for saxophone (played by Gilad Atzmon), soprano duet and even small choir.
Because of his previous work with orchestration for Lamb, Thorne is able to put the knowledge of his craft to great use here, and when the vocalise enters in the first part, The Light That Guides, the effect is one of weightlessness. The discreet use of instruments continues, so that even when a full string section appears the sound remains lucid, the picture easy to see rather than clogged. Not only that, Thorne is able to clear room for Thompson at the start of sections such as Watching The Well or Victoria, which begins with a consummately executed descending slide on the bass.
Intense and intimate, this is music of real meaning, and though words are not used they might as well be in the course of a profound cello solo half way through Molly. The wordless voices also work well throughout, rarely if ever veering towards the twee, and reach new levels of beauty towards the end of The Generous Heart, with its subtle drums and thoughtful bass.
Some of the music sounds part improvised, but it works within relatively strict structural guidelines, creating some exquisite tension that finds the listener subconsciously leaning forward to take it all in.
And therein lies the real beauty of this album, for it is a record that is made for attentive home listening, one to enjoy without the distractions of everyday life. Having made its mark in the first few notes, it releases you back to the real world 45 minutes later, off the back of what can only be described as a purely cathartic musical experience. Make no mistake, this is a thing of real beauty.