American trumpeter-composer Steph Richards worked hard to make sure that her music was considered on its own terms, and not as is so often the case in jazz and music as a whole — in the context of her gender. But when she recorded «Zephyr» in 2019 she was six-and-a-half months pregnant, and this literally transformative experience shaped the spirit of the album, in concept and in practice. «Zephyr» explores the immediate connection between Richards’ body and her musical work, meditating about the “idea of breathing one breath for two bodies — moving through the world with two distinct pulses happening at the same time”.
«Zephyr» is divided into three suites, each one found inspiration in Richards’ embodied self, and all accompanied by pianist Joshua White. The first suite, the five-parts «Sacred Sea», features Richards playing the trumpet and flugelhorn in resonating water vessels, a technique she has been refining since 2008, and now has a new meaning as plays on the idea of her in utero child was, in a sense, breathing underwater. This is the most intimate and vulnerable suite, reflecting Richards’ idiosyncratic approach of playing the trumpet and her highly personal conception of sound and form at all.
White, who employs the prepared piano as a percussive instrument, is a perfect partner for Richards’ unconventional, loose songs. «Anza», titled after Richards’ daughter, and the ritualist «Sacred Sea» captures best the unstable and fragile essence of flowing water, as well as the deeply emotional, tasking process of giving life. The title piece is accompanied by a «slow cinema» short film directed by Vipal Monga, presenting this suite focusing on water and breath in another light.
The following suite, the three-parts «Sequoia», relates too to the elements and meditates on the ways climate change might shape Richrds’ daughter’s life. This suite radiates a sense of urgency, but also a thoughtful lyricism. The expressive conversations of Richards and White abstract the future of Earth in poetic, economic terms. The last suite, the four parts «Northern Lights», intensifies these veins and suggests a series of delicate, more abstract and contemplative conversations, all highlighting beautifully one of the most humane experiences.
Steph Richards (tp, flh, resonating water vessels), Joshua White (p, prep, perc)