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Monday, November 7, 2011

Agustí Fernández - El Laberint De La Memòria (Mbari, 2011) ****½

 By Stef

Listeners familiar with Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández will be surprised when they hear the first notes of this beautiful album. Fernández is known primarily for his free improvisation and the use of extended techniques, often with stellar results, but for this one he was challenged by João Santos from the label Mbari, who asked him to play music inspired by classical Spanish music from the 20th Century.

After extensive listening to the original music, Fernández selected details, like memorable traces of the music that somehow resonated with him. And with the exception of the long "Joan i Joana", most pieces are relatively short and just touch upon one aspect of the musical story, or to put it differently, Fernández just gives a quick sketch of an element that grabbed his attention in the original, transforming it and bringing its essence to the foreground in a quite expressive way. "Less is more", and that works for me: the pieces are like short poems rather than epic explorations, and like good poems they capture an interesting angle, are refined and fresh, they leave the listener with a sense of wonder and surprise, waiting to hear more, but somehow he or she is left in mid-air, as this open-ended music intends to, free to muse over it, and make it resonate internally.

Some pieces, like "Tonada" clearly fit in the Spanish tradition, others, such as "Pluja Sorda", played inside the piano, are more experimental.

It is romantic and lyrical, but because he refrains from adding too much context or excessive ornaments, the overall sound results in one of sober warmth. Beautiful.

It may be too sweet for regular listeners of this blog, but it will hopefully bring a broader audience to the pianist's music.

For those who don't like sweet stuff, I can recommend the following album.

Agustí Fernández and Joan Saura - Vents (Psi, 2011) ***

The perfect antidote for the sweetness of "El Laberint De La Memòria" is "Vents", a duo album of Agustí Fernández on piano and Joan Saura on electronics and live sampling. The title is the Catalan word for "winds", and all eight tracks evoke the sound of the indicated wind. 

On some tracks, such as on "Tramuntana" you can feel the wind, its powerful force making all kinds of object howl and clatter, other pieces are more raw giving the impression of garbage bins being blown away over cobble stones, so you hear the wind and the acoustic mayhem it may create in its wake.

This is not an album that I will listen to often, because it is basically a collage of noises, but then of the kind that is cleverly created and put in a context.

Sweet romanticism and raw noise : two extremes by one musician? Why not? Adventurous listeners may try to listen to both simultaneously. Why not?

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© stef