Piano Interrupted: Landscapes of the Unfinished
Denovali Records

Judging by Landscapes of the Unfinished, perhaps Piano Interrupted should re-christen itself Piano Accompanied considering the number of times the acoustic keyboard is joined by a second instrumental voice on the group's third Denovali album. The new release doesn't wholly depart from the sound Tom Hodge (piano) and Franz Kirmann (electronics), augmented by long-time collaborator Tim Fairhall (double bass), captured on their earlier releases, but there are some dramatic new wrinkles. Though it's been featured in the group's live shows, clarinet playing by Hodge is heard on record for the first time, and, even more critically, the album was partly recorded in Senegal and thus includes local musicians playing traditional instruments (interestingly, all nine of the track titles are named after musicians who contributed to the recording).

That the album features so prominently the contributions of others reflects a desire on the group's part to move beyond the comparatively hermetic character of the first two releases and allow external elements to seep into its soundworld. With that in mind, recordings were made at Dakar (where Kirmann grew up) and then brought back to London where the material was manipulated, added to, and shaped until it evolved into something bearing the signature Piano Interrupted stamp.

The African pulsations that open “Waraba” make it feel as if we're in Steve Reich territory, but the entrance of acoustic piano, double bass, and electronic treatments declares soon enough that we're listening to Piano Interrupted and no one else. It's a heady electro-acoustic brew that sees the elegance of the group's previously presented sound blended with the earthiness of West Africa; harsher sonorities also sometimes surface in a way that lends the group's typically pristine presentation a rougher edge.

The juxtaposition of Hodge's clarinet and scratchy noises of some unidentified kind gives settings such as “Abdou Kadre” and “Jean Luc Diola” a tension previously downplayed in the group's music. At such moments the music seems as if it's drawing upon both the precision afforded by digital gear and the rawness and unpredictability of the natural world, and the combination makes for an oft-fascinating listen. There are moments when the album re-visits the style of the group's earlier release, as happens during “Vieux,” but for the most part Hodge, Kirmann, and Fairhall welcome the influx of new elements into their productions (e.g., kora in “Oumar Konte” and talking drum in “Pape Malick Diome”), treating such a move, presumably, as a means by which to engender something of a re-imagining of the Piano Interrupted project.

May 2016