Max ZT & Dan Whitehouse – Ten Steps: Album Review

Max ZT & Dan Whitehouse; an exciting combination on Ten Steps…to heaven.

Release date: 8th September 2023

Label: Want To Know

Format: LP / CD / digital

It feels like we should be anticipating a bout in the ring with a big-name MC introducing the contestants… In the red corner, from Neeewwwww York, the highly celebrated hammered dulcimer virtuoso, Max ZT (Maaaaaaaxxx Zeeeeeeeeeeee Teeeeeeeeeee!!) and in the blue corner, the transglobal nomad, from Tokyo and the Black Country, Dan Whitehouse  (Daaaaaaaaaannnan Whitehouuuuuuuuuse!!).

However, rather than slugging it out to find the new heavyweight champion, the two combine their considerably inventive energy to present their debut album. To coin a handy but appropriate cliche, Ten Steps proves more than the sum of the already impressive parts.

ZT (if you weren’t already aware of his tag, he’s the hammered dulcimer’s answer to Jimi Hendrix) and the ever-regenerating Whitehouse (last seen on the ATB pages, protest singing about The Crooked House pub), use spoken word and virtuoso playing to create a series of pieces with a belief in the healing power of music at the core. The virtuosity comes in inventiveness rather than simply showboating or setting fire (literally rather than metaphorically) to their instrument.

Taking a therapeutic and relaxed stance, the notion of being ‘in the moment’ is a key ingredient of these creations, these compositions and arrangements. Achieving a state of musical nirvana in their collaboration they talk of looking outside themselves, space and stillness in their art

And so to Side one – we have the pleasure of enjoying a vinyl copy (although buyer beware…play at 45) – which is a crafted sequence of five pieces where less is more and allows the effect of the clever rhymic ideas to shine.

Bury One’s Head again captures Dan’s social awareness as he documents his observations of the disturbing Taliban takeover in Kabul from August 2022, in a poignant lyric from a pilot’s perspective accompanied by an ominous percussive soundtrack. The combination of sounds and sudden ending is most disquieting. Even more stark is Shizuka – meaning quiet in Japanese – that’s an evocative piece that owes a debt to what for those in the know call the devil’s chord.

On the other end of the scale, Perfect Circle is a bright and immediate gateway track. Warm and airy, due a shout out for the Katie Whitehouse poem that provides the inspiration of the ‘throw those curtains wide…’ feeling. The spoken word effect is at its most potent on Hammerhead; the contrast of the delicacy with the large steel machinery at Yokohama Port whilst relating to the personal upheaval of leaving a loved one behind.

Flipping the record over, two lengthier tracks take their meditative and improvisational elements to greater heights. How To Strike is an improvised piece recorded live in one take and inspired by observations of the practice routines of a Tokyo golfer in his aim for perfection. Notes pour and cascade to conjure up the meditative practices in the quest perfection. There’s almost a perfect segue into The Many Colours Of Morning where Dan talks of the way the Japanese sunlight bounces off buildings “like God’s graffiti.” Ideal soundtrack material again, a piece that really deserves some suitable visuals to make the piece complete.

Ten Steps delivers a fascinating document that takes up the challenges of looking beyond musical and cultural boundaries. Delivered with a rare finesse, Max and Dan’s musical intimacy is a rare commodity.

Here’s Shizuka live from Silk Mill Studio:

Max ZT online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

Dan Whitehouse online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

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