There is nowhere to hide in a sleepless night. For those of us familiar with those long hours of perilous introspection amid that cloud of self-doubt and uncertainty, there is great companionship to be found in German trumpeter and composer Sebastian Studnitzky’s latest album, Nocturnal. Inspired by a period of isolation and insomnia, these tracks span the breadth of tones and flavours that come alive at night; sometimes, the stillness brings clarity and lucidity, a penny-drop consolidation of thought patterns from the previous day that we had been too busy or distracted to follow through to their logical conclusions, and yet at others, the wandering mind cannot be trusted, our vulnerabilities grasping their moment in the spotlight, as worst-case scenarios become inseparable from their more realistic alternatives in the absence of rational light.
All of this is on display on Nocturnal. ‘Abyss’ evokes that fug of incomplete convictions and unfocused concentration, its muted trumpet sounding sorrowful and downtrodden. Piano notes linger awkwardly, stinging the air with their echo, capturing that maddening sense that our mind is too heavy to let us rest, but too knotted to show any hope of resolution.
‘Auriel’ raises the stakes further, channelling panic mode, the cold sweats and dread of flickering, juddering synthpad percussion and gushing, spilling piano notes that are too fast to absorb, as if to represent a life spinning out of control. A drill-like synth line creeps into the song’s DNA as it progresses, that incessant voice at the back of our head trying to provoke our most destructive urges.
And yet, there are fruits to be truffled out from this fog, as on ‘Omara’, where the desolation is heightened to a state of serene beauty, piano notes hitting the air like ripples on a midnight lake, while husky, smoky trumpet tones sound like they could have been lifted from a Tom Waits ballad. The horn notes are stronger on ‘Dusk’, but they are somehow more alone, Studnitzky playing the blues, tears dripping between the lines.
Shards of light penetrate ‘Lucine’, though, and we are reminded that great inspiration and invention can also arrive in such moments. High piano notes grasp for fresh air and wordless vocals hum along with their melody as a circular, repeated tune lodges into our memory and persists; what does it remind us of, we ponder? With no cause for distraction, such simple mental tasks can intoxicate us during these stolen, secret hours, another of the universal truths that Studnitzky exposes on this devastatingly relatable album.