Pianist and keyboards player Steve Hamilton has used the enforced inactivity of lockdown to record his first solo album, Between the Lines, with friends including guitar virtuoso, Martin Taylor MBE dropping by to guest on selected tracks.
The album’s release coincides with a period of recuperation for Hamilton following surgery to remove his right kidney after a tumour was found during a CT scan for another problem that has since been cleared up.
“I went into hospital on September 25th and had the kidney removed along with the tumour and hopefully any traces of it from my body,” says the musician who studied at Berklee School of Music and toured the world before returning to live in Stirling. “It seems we found it early enough to hope for a clear outcome moving forward.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic began to take its effect on live music, Hamilton had international tours with his regular employer, drumming legend Billy Cobham, as well as all his other bookings, cancelled. Having appeared on more than forty recordings by luminaries including drummer Bill Bruford’s Earthworks, saxophonists Peter King and Tommy Smith and guitarist Tony Remy, he felt this was an ideal opportunity to release an album of his own.
A hugely experienced musician whose CV also includes work with jazz legends Ray Charles, Freddie Hubbard and Pee Wee Ellis, Hamilton grew up in a musical family. His father, Laurie was a professional guitarist and was always on hand to share advice and musical discoveries.
Between the Lines is dedicated to Laurie, who died in 2013, and features Martin Taylor MBE and saxophonist Paul Booth, whose quartet Hamilton plays in. Guitarists Don Paterson and Davie Dunsmuir, Hamilton’s colleague from the Billy Cobham Band, also made stellar contributions.
Most of the material was written, often on the spot, by Hamilton alone or with his guests. Opening track Awakening explores the textures and tones available with the latest keyboard technology. The ballad Ealasaid, dedicated to Martin Taylor’s wife, Elizabeth, was created spontaneously by Hamilton and Taylor. For the powerful, atmospheric In a Flash of Light, Hamilton invited Davie Dunsmuir to add electric guitar to his keyboard and rhythm track, and Paul Booth’s tenor saxophone brought out the yearning quality of From the Embers.
Long-time friend Don Paterson, who is better known as one the UK’s leading poets, contributed his trademark filigree guitar picking to Look Up. Paterson’s evocative composition Nijinsky, which first appeared during his time with Celtic-jazz group Lammas in the 1990s, has always fascinated Hamilton and inspires a searching improvisation here. Paterson was also the source of the arrangement of Robert Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss which closes the album with a mood of poignancy.
“I really enjoyed the process of making the album,” Hamilton says. “I didn’t set out with any particular aim or sound in mind. Of course, I didn’t expect to be undergoing life-saving surgery once the recording was finished but I’m beginning to do some exercise, like slow walking, and I’m looking forward to getting back into some kind of musical action again. I’m just so grateful to my NHS consultant and the whole team who looked after me. They were all amazing.”
You can donate to the GoFundMe campaign that’s been set up to help Steve Hamilton here
Between the Lines is available on Bandcamp