Perhaps the most important thing to say about this album is that it does not sound like The Caretaker. We write this because the comparisons have been made to such an extent that readers may have already made the association. Each composer uses wax cylinders, yes ~ but while the music of The Caretaker is haunted and strewn by debris, the music of Adrian Lane is nostalgic and tidy, like an old mansion whose curtains have been thrown open and whose floors have been swept.
The difference can be traced to the album’s title, Playing With Ghosts. There’s a huge difference between fear and play, and by extension between haunted and treasured memory. Rather than remarking, “wasn’t that terrible?”, Lane declares, “wasn’t that wonderful?”. He extracts music from hundred-year-old wax cylinders (which in the album’s best moments include healthy samples of their scratchy patina), modifies and re-arranges them, then adds new melodies from his own hundred-year-old piano. The present duets with the past, forming a connection between generations ~ a connection extended as Lane gives his 7-year-old son a writing credit on “Fathers and Sons”.
Another layer within a layer is added through guest musicians on clarinet, flute and sax. While their contributions are often muted, the restrained technique allows the instruments to mirror the sampled echoes of hundred-year-old strings, an orchestra comprised of players whose lives never overlapped. In this sense, the title of the album becomes literal, as these musicians play with ghosts. A hundred years from now, will an intrepid composer find this album and do the same?
While listening, one is given the opportunity to choose between rumination and celebration: to mull over the mistakes of the past or to polish its pearls. Lane leans in the direction of the latter. While the album contains a few pensive pieces (in particular “Abandoned Equations”), the overall tone is one of peaceful acceptance. The past wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps the future may also be brighter than it seems. (Richard Allen)