Stavros Gasparatos: Seven
Piano Interrupted: The Unified Field
Of the many things worth noting about Piano Interrupted's The Unified Field, one thing stands out more than any other: the degree to which its acoustic and electronic elements have been integrated. In contrast to many such projects, the one shared by London-based pianist/composer Tom Hodge and French electronic producer Franz Kirmann leaves far behind any such separation between its elements, resulting in a seamless fusion on the group's second album (the follow-up to Two By Four) that achieves a rare naturalness and coherence—a unified field indeed.
As it turns out, the title is apt in another sense, too. Derived from David Lynch's book Catching The Big Fish, the title refers to the way things interrelate such that what might appear to be an initial apparent state of disconnectedness eventually reveals itself to be meaningfully connected. Lynch, of course, applies the idea to montage and the long-standing practice of assembling scenes into a filmic whole, but it applies just as easily to The Unified Field in the way its disparate musical elements, styles, and influences coalesce. Four musicians account for the album's rich, classical-electronic sound: Hodge on piano (specifically a Pleyel baby grand), Kirmann on laptop, Greg Hall on cello, and Tim Fairhall on double bass. Each sound contributes significantly to the overall sound: the piano gracefulness and elegance, the bass warmth and weight, the laptop rhythmic propulsion and textural design, and the cello lyricism and emotion.
Though Kirmann's interventions are audible in the stutter of Hodge's playing during “Emoticon” and “Open Line,” the others contribute equally to the music's luscious neo-classical swirl of tremulous piano motifs, melodic cello phrases, and earthy double bass patterns. The ear-catching blend of laptop and acoustic elements that distinguishes settings such as “Darkly Shining” and “Lost Coda” is, in a word, stirring. In a representative piece like “An Accidental Fugue,” Hodge's playing brings a fragile delicacy to the material that makes the album's sound all the more satisfying, while Hall, though he distinguishes himself throughout, has a cello spotlight in “Path of Most Resistance” that's especially memorable. Piano Interrupted isn't the only act tilling this particular soil—Max Richter and Hauschka also come to mind—but no other outfit in recent memory merges the acoustic, electronic, and digital realms as convincingly as do Hodge, Kirmann, Hall, and Fairhall on this exquisite, forty-four-minute release.
Stavros Gasparatos's Seven can easily be heard as a companion album to Piano Interrupted's. Like The Unified Field, Seven achieves a striking balance between electronic and acoustic sounds, with the Greek composer in this case having fashioned the recording as a soundtrack version of a dance work (choreographed by Angeliki Stellatou and presented in 2011 at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens) that uses the seven deadly sins as a conceptual springboard. Gasparatos himself plays guitar, piano, and drums on the album, but it's the five accompanying musicians' cello, violin, vibraphone, soprano saxophone, electronics, and percussion contributions that make a critical difference to the album's sound.
While some of the eleven tracks suggest the body movements of the dancers in the stage version, Seven has been, for its CD release, re-imagined to work as both an expression of the original production and a neo-classical work designed for home listening. Having said that, the album material possesses a strong enough rhythmic dimension that suggests it would lend itself naturally to an onstage presentation. That even applies to a piece as gloomy and macabre as “Hell - Gluttony,” especially when its sax wail is accompanied by a rhythmically swaying percussive treatment.
Hinting at the material's dance origins, “Intro” gets underway with metronome-like ticking before the album's luscious brush strokes of vibes, strings, and saxophone appear for the first time. The metronome motif reappears within both “Lust,” this time accompanied by pizzicato strings, and “Sloth,” where an arresting hocketing treatment of string plucks and vibes sets the stage for memorable solo spotlights for soprano sax and cello. Though it devotes its first half to glissando arcs of cello and violin, “Limbo” eventually makes good on the movement associated with its title in shifting the focus to aggressive beatsmithing during its second half.
Some interesting genre turns surface along the way: with vibes and drums leading the charge, “Falling - Greed” exchanges the music's neo-classical style for something closer in spirit to smoky acoustic jazz, while “Cocktail Party - Envy” likewise uses jazz as its stylistic base. But perhaps the album's most impressive piece (if the one least obviously dance-related) is the penultimate “Seven Deadly Sins,” a ponderous, nine-minute setting that rises to a level of chamber orchestra sophistication in its arrangement. It's hardly the only piece that impresses, however, on this consistently strong outing by Gasparatos and company.