When going through the Joyzine submissions inbox some emails leap out and demand you open them. The email that declared “Pedal Steel Guitarist & Improvisor“ made me nearly drop my tea. I hoped the music matched the words and, in the case of Rich Hinman’s new album Memorial, I wasn’t disappointed. Hinman has worked with artists such as k.d. lang, Sara Bareilles and Emily King but on this album he spent time constructing initial track ideas using pedal steel or synthesiser with producer Pete Min. to see what would happen. He says “We would see where that idea took us, layer other elements on top, and try to figure out what it was asking for.”
This exploration of what the pedal steel can do leads Hinman through a variety of landscapes from jazz to ambient and even a Celtic influence inspired by his partner the violinist Jenna Moynihan. It also involved collaborations with peers including Grammy-nominated drummer Mark Guiliana, bassist David Piltch, keyboardist Benny Bock, saxophonist Daniel Rotem, and the Section Quartet string quartet and another artist on the Colorfield label Brad Allen Williams.
Some tracks, like ‘Pool’, use the full band to slowly build saxophone and drums into a gently cascading tumble of sounds that weave some melancholy into the major and minor shifts. The Vangelis-like ‘Sand Storm’ has swelling synth washes bathed in the slow shimmer of neon electronic piano, followed by the soft arpeggios of ‘Sky Lounge’ which drift around the lush slow-slow-tremolo of the pedal steel and duskily playful saxophone on a track that sounds like Hawaiian jazz foreplay.
‘Dolphins’ leans on the dissonance of the synthesiser and ‘The Raising of a Large Barn’ brings lush bow and pizzicato provided by the Section Quartet. One of Hinman’s favourite tracks on the album is ‘Buddy’ which started life as a pedal steel improvisation which he says “made me think of the great steel player Buddy Emmons and his tune ‘Blue Jade’, although it doesn’t sound like it at all.” The album closes with the compelling underwater feel of ‘Memorial’ with arpeggio bubbles frothing while the pedal steel darts around like sleek fish.
Memorial covers a lot of ground between mainstream and leftfield. It delights with its use of the pedal steel in unique ways which came from Hinman allowing himself to stray outside his comfort zone, push himself to not rely on “the preconceived notion of what a ‘song’ is.” and so explore new sonic expressions. By mixing the organic pedal steel with electronic sounds the album is lifted into an exciting conflation of the familiar and the intriguing which is utterly captivating.
Review by Paul F Cook