Georg Graewe

Stills & Stories
Random Acoustics RA CD028

By Ken Waxman

Part of the generation of composer/instrumentalists not content to limit themselves Bochum, Germany-based pianist Georg Graewe has, since the aughts, investigated the links among music, poetry, visual arts and science and has composed several operas. Stills & Stories is a return to unhyphenated music however, 23 compositions for solo piano. Lasting a somewhat forbidding 78 minutes, the tracks are grouped into five suite and a barely one minute “Afterthought”, demonstrating that the skills the pianist regularly used, most notably in a trio with cellist Ernst Reijseger and percussionist Gerry Hemingway, haven’t atrophied. At the same time, like a boxer returning to the game after a long layoff, the pianist needs a few preliminary rounds or tracks to find his feet and regain the old fighting stance.

Likely recorded in real time, note how the musical footwork, bobs and weaves as it evolves. Graewe’s introduction seems initially to be by-rote, until attaining what Muhammad Ali (the prize fighter not the drummer), described as the ability to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. During the first couple of suites, Graewe is involved in continued loops of randomized ideas. Here staccato squirms clatters and clips share space with ponderous, formalized strategies.

The program picks up immeasurably by the time “Moods, Modes and Manners I-V” arrives. Lively and dynamic, the unrolling timbres are reminiscent of mid-period Cecil Taylor, but with hints of dissonance surgically removed. Key is “IV” where the striated sequences bend like a creeper bringing sonic nutriments from the preceding tremolo interface to bloom as higher pitched variations in “V” while also reflecting the initial theme. This pattern is repeated throughout. The contemplative “Narrative Lines” suite includes sequences that sound more like lullabies than narratives, but make up for that on “A Tale” as the piano’s darker region is mined for carefully timed, near-rococo story-telling.

Ultimately the payoff occurs on “Rhyme and Discourse I-III” as two-handed legerdemain elaborates the improvisations’ stride flourishes and note cascading into the musical equivalent of Roman candles going off in the night sky. With the last tracks as shaded and expressive as the first tunes were muffled and dry, unexpected clips and plinks are finally galvanized into a nuanced keyboard recital that like sophisticated boxing expresses grace as well as speed and vitality.

Tracks: Afternoon in Coloured Frames: a) Breathing Spells b) Fountain Rhythms VII c) Pavane; Thumbnails: a) Cloudy b) Under Glass c) Tarnished; Moods, Modes and Manners I-V: I, II, III, IV, V; Three Stills: a) Stains b) Streaks c) Bandeaux; Narrative Lines: a) In Secret b) A Tale c) An Incident d) A Tale Continued e) A Ballad: Rhyme And Discourse I-III : I, II. III; Afterthought

Personnel: Georg Graewe: piano