Dan Whitehouse & Max ZT – Stoller Hall, Manchester – 28th October 2023
A week after showcasing their talents to delegates from all around the world at the 2023 English Folk Expo, Dan Whitehouse and Max ZT return to Manchester from a sell-out show in Birmingham the night before. It’s the final night of their tour promoting the Ten Steps album and Max is due home for the imminent birth of a new child in a couple of weeks.
Together and apart, the pair run through a series of set pieces and an intriguing improvisation or two. The latter is most exciting as there’s literally no script and the duo fly by the seat of their pants. They’re professionals though and the results are no concession to quality. Max talks eloquently about his instrument and his passion for world music and the power of creativity before a first improv and then sets up a second while Max decides how he’s going to make his own contribution. The improv arrangements seem to have varied (naturally) during the tour and tonight, after some thought, Dan grabs a copy of the Ten Steps album, a blank sheet of paper and using Max’s sounds from across the stage, begins to scribble some thoughts. Clearly taken by the notes that float into the spacious hall, he steps up and starts to sing about “tow birds, one flight” while adding the occasional spoken observation.
It’s the climax of a set where the duo work around pieces from Ten Steps (that title track with its ever building loops is the finale) and some of Dan’s solo work from The Glass Age album. Spoken word, field recordings and found sounds all play a significant part in their work. Dan triggers the chants from those who watch the sunrises in Japan which sparked off their collaboration, and there are poetry readings and memories from industrial workers in the Midlands immortalised in his Voices From The Cones project.
Dan takes a few steps back to sit for a couple of pieces at a stunning Steinway piano, which touch deeply and highlight the stripped-back beauty of his work. More akin to the reworkings on the more intimate Reflections On the Glass Age album; a record that impressed us with its ‘hold your breath intimacy’ and one where Campfire (again) impresses in the live set. It’s an evening of fine quality in a grand setting, the only sadness in that as Ten Steps patters to a slow closure, the tour is ended and there’s a temporary pause in Dan and Max’s next steps.
Before Dan and Maz step onstage, there’s a short but fascinating support slot from local musician Sean Morrison. Unbeknownst to him, he has a similar MO to that of the headliners. A musician, like Max and Dan who enjoys exploring sounds and being able to bring together different worlds and genres. This he does by combining music from the likes of Belgian composers with Scottish airs, and Niel Gow and Bach. he also experiments with spoken word accompanied by swoops, sweeps and from the fiddle to provide a wholly apt introduction to the evening’s musical feast.