Not knowing what’s going to happen is sometimes the best place to make music.

Rebecca Nash’s newest release investigates the connections between music and scientific elements, inspired by John O’Gallagher’s work on tone rows and how it could be applied to the atomic numbers of six rare metals. This makes for a fascinating exploration into Nash’s own compositional identity, something I wanted to talk to her about further…

Could you explain in more detail what inspired this project and why you were driven to explore tone rows and these harmonic/melodic methods?

Being a piano player, I’ve always been really interested in harmony (obviously!). When studying classical music growing up, I tended to gravitate towards music by the impressionists like Ravel and Debussy or the more folky sound world of Bartok, – basically, composers whom I felt at that time seemed to be using a wider, and perhaps richer harmonic and rhythmical pallet than the music of the classical composers I began playing when I was young.

However, I had never really properly explored the piano music of the serialist composers like Schoenberg and their use of tone rows so when my friend saxophonist John O’Gallagher and I had a conversation about Alice Coltrane’s comping on the piece ‘Iris’ (Stellar Regions) I was immediately drawn into her sound world on not to mention John’s understanding of her comping from a tri-chordal perspective.

From that point, I started becoming interested in her use of these otherworldly structures and also John’s writing on how tri-chords generated rows and chords which I could then implement into my compositions.

Why did you choose to combine this musical structure with scientific aspects?

The scientific theme began to crystallise after discovering that Ian Thorn, (the generous patron of the Bristol Jazz Festival and commissioner of this music) had spent his life working as a chemist. Because this music was written to be performed at the festival as part of his 70th birthday celebrations I chose to focus the composition on the element Platinum which is commonly used to mark 70th anniversaries.

How does this album differ from your previous work?

My previous album Peaceful King was a collection of pieces written over the course of a few years. I wanted to release them all in the form of an album, but they didn’t necessarily relate to one another. This music is all of a particular ilk and designed to hang and be played together as one big piece of work.

What does it feel like to have this work commissioned by the Bristol Jazz Festival?

I felt so privileged to be asked to write the first Rising Star Festival Commission and grateful for the opportunity.

Why did you choose these musicians to play with you on the album?

I chose this particular line-up of instruments because I felt it would convey the wide ethereal soundscapes I was after. Also, I love the powerful sound that can be generated by horns doubling melodies, and it seemed only fitting to ask John to join us as the music had emerged from our conversations as well as reading his book entitled A Twelve-Tone Approach to Improvisation.

Which piece was your favourite to compose? Which is your favourite to perform?

Honestly, I don’t have one. I like them all for different reasons. The main hook for Noble Heart was the simplest to write for some reason – that repeated sequence just came into being really easy. But then, I really enjoyed the process of honing the more obscure tunes like Ruthenium and Osmium.

Playing Noble Heart with Nick is always a total joy, and it has now developed into a song as singer-songwriter Sara Colman wrote lyrics for this piece too which is so special.

The tracks seem quite free and experimental at points. Is this a style of jazz that you connect with?

100%!! Although the music is fairly structured in places, I also love the spontaneity on the bandstand. I completely trust all the musicians and love what they each individually bring to the music. Not knowing what’s going to happen is sometimes the best place to make music in my opinion.

Considering the influence John O’Gallagher’s writings have had on your compositional approach, are there any other musicians that inspire you?

Yes, that list is endless. At the moment I’m particularly inspired by the piano music of the brilliant pianist Matt Mitchell. He sent me some of his etudes to learn but they’re so dense and complex I feel like they are going to take several years to get my head around them.

Rebecca Nash plays at Ronnie Scott’s Club on 16 February.

For tickets and information go here.

You find about more about Rebecca and her music here.

And read our review of her album ‘Redefining Element’ here.