Cellist and composer Justin Wright hails from Montreal, and he’s about to introduce his debut LP, Music For Staying Warm (First Terrace Records). As a cellist, Wright has worked alongside Hauschka, Bing & Ruth, and the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson, and his music is instantly likeable: a gentle and soothing sound shines through thanks to the use of a quartet. The strings emit a warm glow which soon inflates the sound until it envelops the listener. Even though the quartet – violin, viola, cello, and double bass – are audible, the music echoes its gorgeous location and surroundings, as the album was recorded in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Because of this, the music exhales the special landscape; it’s less about a particular sound and more about the atmosphere.
The scenic beauty influences and runs through the notes like a baby creek. In such an exposed, infinite expanse, Music For Staying Warm is reassuring and comforting, awestruck but never daunting. Rather than being frosty, the strings radiate the warmth of sunshine, as if shielded by the range itself. Not something ominous or imposing, but a witness to majesty.
The nine pieces are made up of compositions and experimental improvisations; they have a gentle ambling nature about them, patiently lying in repose. Wright wants the listener to ‘relinquish a sense of anticipation’ and just enjoy the drifting for what it is, where it’s at, and where it may meander; to enjoy sound as a pure form of sound without the general anxiety of an upcoming resolution or a pre-planned phrase. There isn’t a burning need to provide a setup, and the music flows better as a result of this letting go; he goes with the flow.
As the strings swell, they provide warmth, and they also make things nice and cosy. Turning thicker and warmer, the weightier harmonies put additional meat on melodic bones, bringing a companion along, and draping a cotton layer over what would otherwise feel skeletal. It puts on extra woollen clothing for the outdoors. The music doesn’t feel the need to wrap itself up, though. Rather than trying to stay warm, it feels naturally warm. It runs throughout the album, stretching all the way through to completion.
Interspersed with expansive drones and experimental pathways in which the cello is free to roam, Music For Staying Warm plays in widescreen. Its outstretched arms are as wide as its surrounding panorama without succumbing to the drooping temperatures of a mountain. In doing so, Wright captures something precious. Something of the landscape, some crucial essence, is captured and distilled, and it drips into the oxygenated tone. This truly is a trip to the great outdoors; a campfire of an album that nestles its way into the heart. Like fresh air drifting over the tip, the music feels cleansed, free of pollution and other dirtying particles. The absence of other instrumentation is a blessing. Less is more. It helps to focus the music and it keeps the sound pure, lifting it up to the apex.