Peter Knight is perhaps best known to most people as the long-time fiddle player for Steeleye Span. Indeed as part of Steeleye Span is the only way I’ve ever seen him play live – and then only once, unfortunately, although I’ve appreciated his talents on recordings many times over the years.
I saw Steeleye on the last leg of their tour before Maddy Prior left the group, and I was awed by Peter Knight’s talents at that gig, so much so that I felt that he was, in fact, the class act of the group that night. His playing that night was fresh, focused, and technically better than anyone else that night, I thought. I still find his playing sublime, whether he plays with Steeleye Span or in his solos and collaborations (please read our review of one of his recent improvisatory performances with saxophonist Trevor Watts). Knight has an earlier solo album out called An Ancient Cause which, sad to say, may be difficult to find – it appears to be out of print.
The Gemini Cadenza is an album with only four tracks on it. Knight plays keyboards as well as, of course, the fiddle. However, on this album, I would actually call it a violin instead, since the classical overtones of the compositions and the style of Knight’s playing owe far more to the stylistic nuances that traditionally distinguish the violin from the fiddle (they are, of course, the same instrument – it is the technique used by the player, and often the decision of the player to choose the instrument’s name).
The opening and title piece “The Gemini Cadenza” is a beautiful and contemplative tone poem which draws from Knight’s particular love of (and background in) classical music. It is gentle with a non-intrusive but steady rhythm track that anchors Knight’s tuneful odyssey. He repeats a number of themes throughout the 10-plus minute length of the track. It has an almost hypnotic effect on me. Indeed, I think it would be good music for meditation. This track can also be found, in its entirety, on a wonderful collection of English fiddle tunes of various styles called The Fiddle Collection.
“There’s Always Tomorrow,” the second track, is more piano-focused, while the violin, which sounds multi-tracked at times, provides both tension and counterpoint to the keyboard theme. This track reminds me a bit of one of Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymopedies.” As with “The Gemini Cadenza, ” this tune is gentle, highly emotional and poignant.
The third tune “The Life And Death Of Mrs. Pearson” opens with some discordant, almost dolphin-like noises from Knight’s instrument. It’s a disturbing piece, perhaps purposefully, considering the name of the track. I probably would have called the track “The Death And Life Of Mrs. Pearson” instead, since the discordancy speaks more to me of the difficulty in leave-taking of life (perhaps more for the persons left behind than the dying).
Its atonality is far more “modern” in concept than the two pieces that precede it and would be harder on the ears for those not “open” to experimental music. I confess that although the concept of the piece intrigued me, it also disturbed me. Depending on the mood I’m in when I’m listening to this CD, I sometimes skip it.
The last track is called “Goodnight, Sleep Well” and is a beautiful lullaby. Although the dictionary says that a lullaby is a song traditionally used to soothe a child to sleep, it occurs to me that it works not only in this usual sense but might well also be used for to soothe someone for whom that “final” sleep is looming. That perhaps is my own personal interpretation and not what Knight meant at all, but then music is always subject to personal interpretation. Either way, it’s a satisfying end to an intriguing body of work.
Knight’s high level of technical expertise, coupled with his willingness to step outside the boundaries of any particular genre, make him an artist of the highest caliber, in my opinion. You may not like all he has to offer, depending on your own tastes, but he is very much worth listening to, in whichever of his incarnations you choose to experience him.
(Park Records, 1999 – originally self released)
Be sure to check out our reviews of the Steeleye Span recordings A Rare Collection
1972-1996, Please To See The King, Time and Horkstow Grange.
Also, you can find more about other artists on Park Records at their Web site.