Tom Rogerson With Brian Eno: Finding Shore

A new artistic partnership tentatively finds its footing.

- Tom Rogerson is an improvisational pianist out of the UK and Brian Eno is, well, Brian Eno: godhead of ambient music and a whole lot of other music besides, theorist, technological innovator, writer and so on. I’m guessing you probably had some idea of who Brian Eno is. Only really having the barest idea of who Tom Rogerson was before I stumbled across this record -hiding away down the back end of 2017- it did make me question from the outset what kind of artistic partnership this would be.

Rogerson and Eno met after a gig and discovered they’re from the same town in Suffolk, bonding over that before they ever got around to connecting over their shared careers as keyboard players and vocalists. Both also have histories with quite well-to-do bands. Tom Rogerson’s outfit Three Trapped Tigers is a little bit different to Roxy Music however. The Tigers, who’re touring with The Deftones over in the US right now are a bit like -and this is a cheap comparison- a collision of the mathtastic rhythms of Battles and the prog-synth sheen of m83. Like both of those bands Tigers are blessed with an overabundance of energy, a large part of which clearly belongs to the enthusiastic synth work of Rogerson.

Left to his own devices, I think Finding Shore might well have had a lot of the same characteristics. According to Rogerson, the day they walked into the studio together Eno told him to just do his thing and the results were “...very emotional, very cathartic, me wailing and screaming, getting quite out there. I thought wow that was just such a perfect forty-five minute thing we could just release that.” Eno wasn’t having a bit of it and with his music techno-theorist hat wedged firmly on, brought in any number of gadgets for Rogerson to play with, or even against. Most notably there was a device called the Piano Bar, which uses infrared laser beams to turn every key on the piano into a midi-trigger. Further, he took Rogerson’s raw performances and transformed them: cutting, looping and mutating sounds. Finally these experiments are returned, on record, as a series of largely three minute vignettes: an avant-garde degustation menu, to sample the delicate, ambient, sometimes almost vanishing flavours the pair have created. If you want to get a sense of it the album’s first number Idea Of Order At Kyson Point, will give you every idea: the keyboard is transformed into synthetic, harmonic crystal sounds in a gentle, but ever-so-slightly-uneasily syncopated pattern before Rogerson adds some life and blood with more traditional piano improv.

Single, Motion In Field, brings a little more of the synth stuff, but wastes little time before getting into some more of that heartfelt piano improv.. The chord progression is simple and possibly a bit manipulative, but by the time it hits the fifth it’s pretty glorious. Your mileage will vary depending on your taste for the whole contemporary neo-classical thing.

The rest of the record doesn’t really give you a chance to give into those initial temptations. It holds to the same bonding of keyboard and technology, piano and ambient synth, but the melodies are less like the libidinal urges of Keith Jarrett and more liked a pared back version of Chopin. Studied, but probably not complex enough to justify how mannered they are. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater though, there are some lovely moments: like the long and scintillating star-curtain that is Marsh Chorus which sounds like an awe-inspiring sequence from a Studio Ghibli soundtrack.

I’m going to sound ungrateful, but I would really like to hear that first forty-five minutes that Rogerson roared out. I guess that means I’m disrespecting Eno which, well, so be it. I wonder if we could have had Eno’s quiet meditations interspersed with that cavalcade of emotion? Without hearing it who can know exactly what it would’ve been like, but I have a strong intuition that’s an artistic partnership I could really have got behind.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Finding Shore
Artist: Tom Rogerson With Brian Eno
Record Label: (Dead Oceans / Inertia)