'Tales of a Summer Past'
by Nick Davis,
Nick Davis ND008
Tales of a Summer Past is an album of charming pieces written by Australian composer Nick Davis. Lightly scored for strings, woodwind and piano or guitar they rarely outstay their welcome. Each of the thirteen characteristic pieces has a descriptive title which hints a deeper background without giving much away. In another age they would be described as light music and have a secure future being played by the numerous light music ensembles around the country.
But musical life has changed considerably in the last fifty years. So now, Nick Davis has performed and produced the music himself, issuing a CD on his own label. Davis started out as a singer/songwriter in the 1980s and had some success with his early albums. He went on to a varied career which included writing jingles and having some success acting. His album Eclipse was released in 2003 and aimed to be a fusion of contemporary classical, celtic, jazz and new age styles.
This new album follows on from that, but in Tales of a Summer Past Davis says that he has deliberately produced music which lies in the classical/crossover realm, which brings us back to that awkward term light music.
The CD booklet credits only Davis as a performer, so consulting his own web-site (www.nickdavismusic.com) we learn something more about the procedures by which he created the disc:
Nick produced Tales of a Summer Past in his own home studio using state of the art software and hardware. The music was recorded using Logic Audio production software and the outstanding Native Instruments 'Kontakt' software sampler. The album was mastered in Bonsai Recording Studios by long time friend and mentor Tom Thorpe. Only orchestral samples were used to create a truly authentic orchestral feel.
The use of sampling means that the pieces are never over-scored, Davis adds instruments only when he needs them. A piano or a guitar forms the backbone of most of the pieces and many have an attractive chamber-music quality. What I missed, though, was the sense of interaction between musicians which comes from chamber music played by a group of live players. Davis's performances are entirely creditable, but the inevitable use of multi-tracking removes a little of the spontaneity of the performances.
Listening to the opening track, A New Season Dawns
[listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:03]
I felt Davis unsuccessfully trying on the mantle of Californian minimalism, but luckily this does not last and the pieces develop strong characters of their own. This track, though, does demonstrate another of the limitations of Davis's performance method, a certain uniformity in the repetitions
[listen -- track 8, 0:00-1:05].
Where the tracks depend more on live performance, such as his guitar playing in A moment with you
[listen -- track 12, 0:00-0:51],
I felt the performances were stronger.
Davis uses variation as a major construction technique; his is a building block method, setting up a musical phrase and then repeating it with varied additions. This works very well, but on a disc with thirteen short pieces (the longest is 4' 37") I would have liked a little more development of ideas.
I found some of the samples used were rather limited in sound quality and not enough like the real thing for my taste. But these are delightful pieces
[listen -- track 13, 0:00-1:21]
and the performances are very successful within their own limits. I urge people to buy the CD, if only to encourage Davis to re-record some of them with a group of live musicians.