London pianist James Heather invited us to sound check for his solo London show at St Pancras Old Church to perform ‘Empire Sounds’. The emotive, minimal composition is the first single on his debut album Stories From Far Away on Piano, released last year on Ahead of Our Time, the first label from Ninja Tune founders Coldcut.
Taking influences from electronic music in structure, ambience and melody, Heather utilises a classical and jazz grounding across the nine tracks, while the album’s concept is grounded in a perspective that gives the music a deeper resonance.
In 2008, a road traffic accident left Heather in a coma and a permanent injury to his finger raised doubts over his ability to continue playing piano to the same standard. Once out of hospital, Heather was galvanised to take his playing more seriously, turning the sketches he’d developed over a number of years into a fully-formed piece of work and using this new focus to help in his rehabilitation.
Not just holding a personal significance, Stories From Far Away on Piano are centred on interpretations of real world stories: Isis jihadists hijacking the Facebook account of an executed female activist in Syria; the British Empire’s imprisonment of Boers in South African concentration camps; the undiscovered remains of a disappeared Malaysia Airlines jet in the Indian Ocean.