New York City’s Max ZT, aka the ‘Jimi Hendrix of the hammered dulcimer’ (NPR) and Wolverhampton singer-songwriter/guitarist Dan Whitehouse perform tracks from their haunting and soulful debut album, Ten Steps, at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on Friday 27 October 2023.
At once timeless and decidedly modern, Ten Steps was recorded between New York and Tokyo. Max’s meditative dulcimer and Dan’s soothing vocal and spoken-word poetry meld together in a unique masterpiece of tear-stained impressionism.
Tackling subjects as wide-ranging as fatherhood, practising golf swings as a metaphor for life, the way the Japanese sunlight bounces off buildings “like God’s graffiti”, and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the duo’s songs shimmer with restless inventiveness, drawing listeners in with an irresistible intimacy.
The pair originally met online via Global Music Match, an international project organised by English Folk Expo in partnership with 19 other countries that bought together musicians from across the globe. They subsequently toured the UK in 2021, and have continued to collaborate, releasing the Ten Steps album in September 2023.
The first five tracks of Ten Step (vinyl A-side) were recorded between New York City and Tokyo (where Dan spends half the year), and completed during 2021. The additional three tracks (B-side) captures two of Max ZT’s improvisations performed at their meditative live gigs in November of that same year, inspiring Dan’s own words and music.
US-based Max ZT has a reputation as a musical innovator. With roots in Irish folk music, Max has studied in Senegal, where he trained with the Cissoko Griot family, and India, where he studied under the renowned santoor master Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. A founder of the celebrated genre-blending New York trio House Of Waters, ZT is also signed Six Degrees Records (home to The Orb, Bebel Gilberto, Natacha Atlas etc) as a solo artist.
Dan Whitehouse has, across seven solo albums, gained a golden reputation as “a fine songwriter, a unique vocal talent and a talented multi-instrumentalist/ performer” (Maverick) and for his “subtle and delicate melodies” (The Sunday Times). Nominated for the FATEA 2022 Innovation Award, Dan has become known for his drive to renew, re-invent and imagine, and the Ten Steps project see him push boundaries further, stepping into the arena of improvisation and spoken word.
“We try to be in the moment as much as possible,” says Max of the live shows. “There are flashes of enlightenment, elements of improvisation. We rarely get such moments of connection in real life.”
“When Max plays it feels like the sky is opening up,” says Dan of this project. “I see things that weren’t there before. Ultimately I think that’s why we turn to art. We yearn to get outside of our own heads, and see the world from another’s perspective.”
Ten Steps is available now (vinyl and via streaming services). Max ZT and Dan Whitehouse visit Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham, on Friday 27 October 2023. Tickets/ info via: bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/