Sebastian Zangar: Song 4 Sector 4

Produced between 2009 and 2012 at his home studio in Berlin and in Fagerholm, Sweden, this ambitious debut album by Romanian composer Sebastian Zangar, who now resides in Germany, makes a noble attempt at uniting classical and electronic music worlds. Zangar's formal training in classical music began with piano lessons at the age of five, whereas his interest in electronic music developed in his twenties (resulting in his Databoy78 project), so it seemed inevitable that he would eventually attempt a merger.

But while not quite an oil-and-water combination, the pairing of his piano playing with programmed electronic backdrops makes for a not entirely successful result. On a positive note, his beautiful piano sound is definitely the recording's major selling point; there's a purity and elegance to his playing that's reminiscent of Bill Evans, and one could easily picture Zangar accompanied by an acoustic bassist and drummer in a jazz trio context. The electronic backgrounds, which feature minimal bass pulses augmented by multiple layers of whirrs, clicks, and bleeps, are very much in the Raster-Noton tradition and as such are cool and cerebral in a way that contrasts markedly to the warmth and naturalism of the piano playing.

Some lovely melodies do surface in Zangar's pieces, the heartbreaking phrase that appears midway through the third piece, “Dont Cry” [sic], an excellent case in point (regrettably, though, its emotional impact is dulled by incessant electronic chatter), and “Love Will Never Tear Us Apart” exudes a gently swinging jazz feel that's also appealing. And at times, the classical-electronic fusion works fairly well. In “Henri Conda Check In,” for example, acoustic piano playing is used sparingly as chords, and consequently the pairing of electronic rhythm elements and bright, music box-styled keyboard sounds produces a satisfying result. “Thildas Theme” similarly limits the piano to accents, and in heavily focusing on synths and electronics the arrangement benefits. Field recordings also occasionally thread their way into the sound design for extra colour (outdoor sounds of children playing during “Little Lake,” cricket chirps in “The Garden”). Ultimately, though, a better Zangar recording would see his piano playing either presented alone or in a small group context wherein other musicians would be heard playing with as much natural feeling and sensitivity as the pianist.

August-September 2013