Monday, September 26, 2022

Marta Warelis – a grain of Earth (Relative Pitch, 2022)

By Matty Bannond

Our planet’s story is plotted around cycles of collapse and renewal. Natural forces give life. They take life away. Summer’s abundance sickens in fall, expires in winter and is reborn in spring. Civilizations rise and recede. Each generation is ultimately replaced. Polish pianist Marta Warelis captures the deep-down truths of this perpetual rhythm in her new album, a grain of Earth.

Based in Amsterdam, Warelis has a capacity to fit in and stand out within any context. She appeared on the Dave Douglas album Secular Psalms released in April 2022. Previous recordings include participation in the Strings5 quintet and a quartet with Frank Rosaly, as well as various trio and duo formations. This time, she improvised all alone. “Playing solo is a very vulnerable yet powerful experience,” she says. “If you let yourself stream whatever comes, it is wonderfully liberating.”

Life’s endless cycles are reflected in the patterns that emerge and evaporate on the album’s first track, “Echo”. Fizzing and gonging sounds ring. When the piano enters, clusters begin to form. Matter sticks together. From this primordial soup, the listener observes complexity evolving as Warelis adds fragments from folk and classical traditions. From nothing, comes everything.

By the time she reaches “Trip of the Light Toe”, Warelis has hurled more cultures and species into the mix. It’s a restless piece. Monk-ish boppy elements lurk beneath the surface. Waves of sound surge up and down as if governed by the moon’s gravitational pull. “I knew it was going to be a very personal journey,” she says. “Kind of a closure of what I’ve been working on in the last few years musically, but also emotionally.”

The album’s title track has a balmy, soothing quality. The extreme weather and geographical violence have now passed. Warelis uses more repeated shapes, trills and technical tropes. This sonic soil is rich and sustaining. In the final moments, fragile and pretty shapes rise like optimistic green shoots.

a grain of Earth grasps the infinite universe and balances it on the outside edge of a very small proton. Marta Warelis explores the possibilities of her piano while steering the listener through an investigation of big ideas and microscopic subtleties. “There’s an arc of a journey for me,” she says. “Of my understanding, going through and experiencing the suffering and beauty of an earthly life.”

The album is available on CD and for digital download or streaming:

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