It’s a painfully apt album title; late last year, Jonathan Lee was burgled – not only was equipment stolen but the thieves made off with the hard drives on which was stored the majority of the past two years of music-making. It’s perhaps a hazard of modern life, that we can store so much in such a small space whilst at the same time making it easier for our work and our memories to be taken from us. This isn’t to make light of a traumatic experience but so much of our lives has been drilled down to basic 0s and 1s, it is becoming even easier for such crimes to occur.
It is to Lee’s credit that his work hasn’t been entirely derailed by this event; indeed it has probably focused his mind to a greater extent, taking on a new challenge with unwanted restrictions. By stripping away his resources, the thieves have unwittingly sparked a fresh creative surge. Lee is taking the positives from the situation and it is reflected in the music he has made; where one might expect doom-laden dark ambience it is, by contrast, diffused with light and air.
The chief reason for this is the presence of saxophonist Jimmy Graphery, who weaves delicate melodies between the slabs of synthesized sound; it seems as if he will be overwhelmed by the, at times, oppressive atmosphere but he always wins out. It’s possibly the finest combination of ambience and sax since Harold Budd and Marion Brown teamed up for “Bismillahi ‘Rrahmani ‘Rrahim” on The Pavilion Of Dreams. The saxophone adds just enough warmth into Lee’s arrangements to prevent them becoming dark and sinister places to be, although when Graphery steps back (for example on “The Transformation of Substance”), the music of Anduin remains much lighter than one might have anticipated.
It’s as if Lee has chosen to turn his misfortune into something positive – rather than dwelling on the act itself in his music, he has used the opportunity as the mother of invention, necessity forcing him to piece together an album from the scraps and remnants that he could find. It’s this attitude that shines through Stolen Years – Lee has refused to be introspective and cover himself in the shadow of dark ambient, and instead has opted for delicate rhythms and subtle synth washes which underline an unwillingness to be beaten. Jonathan Lee probably thought his world had collapsed on the day of the burglary, and he could have so easily made a grim, angry, brooding record. He hasn’t – he’s risen above a kneejerk response to look onwards and upwards, and Stolen Years is a magnificent achievement.