The bleached sky releases a light flurry of snow. Orphaned of their leaves, the trees are laid bare, their skeletons susceptible to the freezing draught. Swans glide gracefully over a freezing lake. In the cold, only the piano braves the outdoors. It leaves behind tiny imprints in the white snow. Although it is the coldest season, winter can frequently be the warmest in spirit. Hearts open up when we give and receive, there’s goodwill among strangers (unless you’re looking for a last-minute present) and there are random acts of kindness in the street. At this time of year, the true spirit of humanity is on display (and it’s not in the shop window). It’s the closest we come to peace on Earth. Jonathan Kawchuk’s North is a wintry record. It’s the last record of the year on the excellent Eilean Records, and their December release has landed at the perfect time. Kawchuk is a young Canadian musician who has already worked with Ben Frost and Nico Muhly, and his refined, quietly versatile and compact compositions are a joyful present.
The low hanging drones are heavy, as if weighed down by the recent flurry of snow. The piano sidles up to the drone, looking for comfort. Cherry-coloured berries cling to the otherwise bare arms, the branches sagging under their weight. These tender compositions do have an inner warmth, though. The fur-lined hood of the drone occasionally hides its warmer, piano-centred features, covering it from time to time. But its smile always breaks through. The hat, the scarf, the gloves help to make the body of the music warmer.
Sometimes, the notes sparkle like white Christmas lights. Pinpoints of light blur against the side of the drone. The piano is momentarily buried, but it doesn’t suffocate. The music keeps you under its spell. A thumping rhythm pushes itself outwards, its skin shivering in the cool air. The drones slowly converge and collide, and like a new sunrise the piano suddenly brightens up the landscape.
The drone falls, piling snow on top of snow. At times, it cuts through the piano, forged as a thin and sharply defined dagger of ice. At other times, it ghosts around in the ether, never really settling down, undecided as it chooses one particular rhythm or pace. It favours the cold atmosphere, the creeping malaise of seasonal depression and the shivering bodies made prey to a plummeting temperature. A couple of degrees above freezing would be just the right temperature. The population decreases, because there’s a sparse core deep inside the music. North is a fitting end to the year. Everything else has taken shelter for the winter, hibernating until the warmer weather returns. And until then, it can only endure the freeze.