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Luke Howard

All of Us (LP)

Like all the residents of Melbourne, Luke Howard lived through the longest Covid-related lockdown in the world. Turning adversity into an artistic triumph, he forged a new album, his second solo record for the UK label Mercury KX and a new benchmark for the contemporary classical composer, pianist and Australian Music Prize nominee.

Throughout, Howard shifts between subtle permutations of shifting sound, etched with his trademark intimacy and restraint, and applied with a palate both minimalist and expansive; to his own piano, celeste and synthesiser, the Budapest Art Orchestra (conducted by Peter Pejtsik) plays strings, guests added flugelhorn, viola, contrabass and modular synth whilst fellow post-classicist Ben Lukas Boysen provides additional programming, production and mixing on "Critical Spirit" and "The Opening Of The Gates".

All Of Us is not only an exquisite portrait of isolation, loss, resistance and reconciliation in both stark and rich shades of piano, orchestra and electronics, but the theme of quarantine provides a framework for the record. Locked out of even his own studio and unable to play shows, Howard’s ever-restless creative flow since his 2013 debut Sun, Cloud – not just solo albums but collaborative recordings, the more jazz-minded Luke Howard Trio and scores for film, theatre and ballet – was challenged like never before. In this strange, unsettling and unexpected world, he found himself turning to French novelist Albert Camus’ classic absurdist novel The Plague, written in 1947, in which the prescient saga of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran was an existential allegory for humanity’s vulnerability and inability to control its own destiny.

If All Of Us qualifies as a concept record, it’s strictly non-narrative and non-verbal; more ‘inspired by’ than ‘based on’, though the album and track titles are taken from Camus’ book.