Every Christmas Eve for the past decade, Hampshire guitarist Owen Tromans has recorded an improvised track. The slowly-growing collection now spans 63 minutes and encompasses many life changes, including the birth of a child. The music is a fine panacea to the glut of Christmas music currently on the airwaves; the album’s main selling point is that it’s Christmas music that doesn’t sound like Christmas music. Gentle and life-affirming, the music instead reflects the spirit behind the holiday.
In 2004, one can hear the artist strumming, picking, knocking a hand or foot against wood for percussion. Does he know that this will become an annual tradition, or is he simply recording a soft track on a holy night? Reflective and sedate, this piece lays the groundwork for what will come next. The more abstract 2005 entry begins with unusually tentative notes that continue to flirt with melody, yet only erupt in the final third. Tromans sings the word “tomorrow”, then stops. Two tracks and twenty two minutes into the album, and one is still trying to figure Tromans out; perhaps he’s searching for meaning as well.
The improvisations follow an arc, growing shorter each year from 2004-10, then growing longer each year from 2011-13. Their construction seems to grow tighter as the years progress as well, a factor of time and experience. In its best segments, the album seems influenced by Led Zeppelin’s acoustic songs, especially “Over the Hill and Far Away”. The occasional lyric lengthens, the playing grows more confident, and one imagines Tromans approaching his songs differently. “2006” and “2007” are particularly well-developed, with a defined beginning, middle and end. This may be a good time to mention that this is not Troman’s only project, as he typically records vocal pieces with a full band; 2014’s Golden Margins includes contributions from six guest performers. But there’s something to be said for the purity of one man, one mic, one night, especially a night such as this.
The songs recorded from 2008-11 are all single-length pieces. The rapid-paced “2008” is a joyful explosion of all-out jamming. But the greatest impression is made in 2010, as the happy babbling of a baby can be heard in the background. Tromans is now performing for an appreciative audience, and this “duet” veers the timbre back to the improvised. The following year, someone is bashing on a xylophone (who could that be?) while Tromans plays. Time is passing swiftly, but pleasantly. One can imagine the child learning to play this instrument or another, accompanying Dad on December 24.
Christmas inspires nostalgia as well as hope. We remember our childhoods as well as our wishes. Christians look back to Christ’s birth and forward to his return. As the project progresses, Tromans can’t help but take inventory of the path he’s begun to take, and certainly wonders where it will end. The final piece seems like an apt coda, as it adopts a different timbre from all that has gone before. Instead of acoustic guitar, “2013” focuses on texture and drone. Field recordings and feedback pedal share equal billing as Tromans wraps the first decade in a bow. It’s a perfect end to the set, its inherent challenge not apparent until one realizes that another track will follow in a few weeks. Is this the year in which Tromans expands his roster, throwing a Christmas Eve dinner party? Or will he return to his abstract roots? The fun is in the wondering; come back to the Sacred Geometry site in a few weeks to hear the next chapter. (Richard Allen)