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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Piano romanticism and electronics?

There might be a new level for romanticism to be discerned, also in avant-garde music, or is it a sense of melancholy? The notes flow sparingly and almost minimal, with the electronics in contrast reinforcing or disrupting the feeling, sometimes accentuating the feeling of loneliness and sadness and despair. Whatever the semantics, this is music about emotions. 

Delphine Dora & Bruno Duplant - Inner Fields (Wild Silence, 2014) ****

Three years ago, the trio of Delphine Dora, Paulo Chagas and Bruno Duplant released the beautiful "Onion Petals As Candle Light", a fragile, accessible and open-minded album, and now the French pianist continues in the same direction in the company of Bruno Duplant, now not on bass, but on electronics and ambient sounds. Her light touch on the piano merges beautifully with the ambient sounds of playing children creating the paradoxical feeling of something very real elevated to an entirely different level of sensitivity, full of quiet acceptance and melancholy, and then on top of this, Duplant's electronics add a level of dissonant contrast, sufficiently to counterbalance the sweet sentiments, yet also without being too disruptive or unsettling.

Both artists use sound sparingly, with minimal tones creating a well-paced and beautiful atmosphere.

Joana Gama & Luis Fernandes - Quest (Shhpuma, 2014) ****½

The opening track, aptly titled 'Dream', could give the listener the impression that he or she is in for a long and meditative album of gentle romantic piano music, but then gradually the landscape changes, first with "From Mist To Nothing' creating a strange electronic minimal soundscape, punctuated by sparse piano notes, then with "Interlude", a short track full of distant vibrating shadows of a player piano.

The distant, and almost deep vision into a century old nightmare, continues on "Let Bygones Be Bygones", an eery piece that might well be used as an alternative to the soundtrack of the bar scene of the movie The Shining. "Night Drive" starts full of quiet romantic expectations, but then it evolves into a psychedelic ride of repetitive electronics, drone and carefully positioned piano chords, going into deeper darkness with 'Quest", when you've left all genres and dive into an electronic maelstrom, only to re-emerge in a strange universe of "Sparks & Crackles", on which chime-like piano sounds collide with weird electronics.

Before it ends, the journey goes over the first meditative then eery "This Frozen Sea", on which the fluid piano notes have been hardened and coldened into layers of nightmarish terror, and "Twisted Movements" surprises you again with its quirky nature, its shifting atmospheres and unexpected finale.

Clearly, this is beyond jazz, beyond rock or classical music, yet merging all of it into something new. Despite this variety, the album has an incredible coherence, and takes the listener to unexpected places.

Joana Sá & Luís José Martins - Almost A Song (Shhpuma, 2013) ****½

The album starts very quietly with Joana Sá's piano opening sonic space by creating a repetitive phrase that remains open-ended like a great invitation for Martins to join first with muted arpeggios on his nylon string guitar, and despite the calm build-up, the emphasis shifts constantly, moving the sounds to the distance, then with some punctuated chords reaffirming their presence like the flux of a river, to become even completely quiet in the second part of the long first track, only for the odd-metered theme to re-emerge with increasing percussive power and even electronic drama. A strange opening song, drawing the listener from romanticism to sentiments of utter desolation. "Cantiga de Amor", you bet.

The intensity increases with the high speed second track, one that is somewhat reminiscent of Egberto Gismonti's music, with powerplay on guitar and piano, inventive, virtuoso and disconcerting because of the dissonance and the drama and the madness. "Rock em Setembro": no prisoners taken. Then the central piece "Cantiga, partindo-se" brings you in a totally different world, with chimelike piano playing creating an eery atmosphere, ominous and dark, even if the playing itself remains light of touch but then the sound becomes multilayered in symphonic mayhem, making the duo sound like an orchestra for a phenomenal finale.

"Die Wahnsinnige Forelle" (the crazy trout), brings us very extended piano sounds clashing and merging with fast-paced guitar arpeggios, into strange chime, bells and other spielerei. breaking down in maddening dissonance and distant whistling.

The album ends with "Sarabande", a quiet piece with sparse notes coloring a vast expanse of silence, sometimes meditatively, sometimes more agitated, yet always intense.

This album was on my "to review" list for 2013, and it was one of the many albums that I regretted not having reviewed earlier (trust me, there are more albums in that case). Don't miss it.

So in sum, yes romantic at times, maybe, meditative, certainly, but the main thing that the three albums share are their strong coherence, the inventiveness of the playing, and especially the strong character of the music. Nothing is cheap here. Their is vision and a powerful use of all musical genres these artists have under their belt, only to make so much richer and rewarding music.



Anonymous said...

Joana Sá & Luís José Martins "Almost A Song" was released by Shhpuma, CF's sub-label.

Stef said...

Of course it is! Thanks

joesh said...

You can find a clip of the album 'Quest' on YouTube (surprisingly):

Best - Joe