Album Review: Duval Timothy – Meeting With A Judas Tree

[Carrying Colour; 2022]

Duval Timothy has an expert talent of making music that is both dense and light at the same time. The pianist and composer (who splits his time between London and Freetown, Sierra Leone) has an impressive ability to take music and form it into something that can immerse you and wash over you in equal measure. His fourth album, Meeting With a Judas Tree, is perhaps a prime example of this. Six tracks and 32 minutes long, Timothy compiles recordings from 2019 to 2022 and explores a variety of themes such as nature and connection; “I wanted to explore what the natural environment means personally,” he explains in the album’s notes.

Though unlike previous records that captured poetic turns of phrases or WhatsApp voice notes, Judas Tree has no distinct vocal presence across its runtime. There are still voices though; tiny snippets of conversations skewed and digitally altered become textural features in the canvasses. “Up”, a definite highlight, is perhaps the clearest example. Weaving together a slew of sound sources (termites and granite stones from various locations in Sierra Leone), the track feels bathed in warmth and sunlight. The piano heard is Alma Mahler’s (wife of composer Gustav Mahler) at Casa Mahler, Spoleto, Italy where Timothy had a two month residency, but it’s the tiny snippets of voices from Timothy on a walk with his mother in Bath that arguably tie up the track so sweetly. There’s an ineffable conjuring happening here, a piece of music that feels connected to time, place, and joy.

These kind of indescribable moments come up across the album, all thanks to the seamless nature in which Timothy and his collaborators create music; it burrows the inbetween, makes unexpected and swift diversions into texture, and (should you give it some due close listening) keeps you on your feet throughout. Opening track “Plunge” takes inky splotches of piano and bleeds in strings before submerging it further in fizzy guitar textures; “Thunder” captures a seven and a half minute single take from Timothy as London musician Fauzia works effects around him, creating grainy atmosphere and exploring the unplayed potential between the notes, all with an inquisitive tone. It’s tracks like these it’s hard to imagine anyone ever being able to communicate other than through music, fascinating marriages of live instrumentation and digital effects.

At just over half an hour long, Judas Tree offers more to bite into than you might expect – all while never becoming too weighty a prospect to return to. While a previous album like Help was undeniably full of intrigue and importance, its length didn’t invite casual listening as easily as Judas Tree does. Here Timothy still manages to spread out too. On the almost nine-minute “Mutate”, pulsating synths squelch like a living organism as piano keys clatter and flicker with snippets of guitar (courtesy of guitarist Kiran Kai). The layers build and swell like waves crashing against stormbreakers on a beach. Amidst it all too, the sound of a silver birch tree’s bark (though it’s impossible to tell exactly where it comes in). This music is a forest and, to skew the old adage, sometimes you can’t see the wood from the trees.

But that’s one of the more speculative aspects of Judas Tree. Full of field recordings “documenting various birds, insects, monkeys, bats, plants, trees, stones and so on,” digging in and trying to make sense of the sounds your hearing can be a reason to return with intent ears. Sometimes what the sound is doesn’t matter when the effect lands. Final track “Drift” unspools and warps as it comes to its end, like an old VHS tape of a homely memory disintegrating in the video player. Crackles like the rustle of leaves appear and make the piano sound like we’re listening to an old wax record. Dense and light at the same time, like classic Duval Timothy.