Any listener coming to Spaces expecting another set of refined piano settings in Nils Frahm's signature style will find such expectations challenged by the raw, echo-drenched dub of the opener “An Aborted Beginning” as well as the subsequent “Says,” whose twinkling synthesizer patterns sparkle and gleam in a manner more reminiscent of Vangelis than the Berlin-based Frahm. But they're merely the first of many such surprises on Frahm's latest outing. Oh, sure, there are riffs on the style documented on the solo piano releases Wintermusik and The Bells—“Went Missing” (a prototypical example of Frahm's delicate-as-raindrops-falling style) and “Said and Done” (a marvelous extended meditation originally, in fact, heard on The Bells) both feature the intimate, up-close piano playing for which he's become admired—but the wide-ranging Spaces ensures that no one will pigeonhole him as a one-dimensional artist.
Significantly, Spaces is a live recording, too, and as such is a reflection of an in-concert experience that's open to the inspiration of the moment and embraces improvisation (as if there was any doubt, “Improvisation for Piano, Laughs, Coughs and a Cell Phone” confirms as much). And rather than documenting a single performance only, Spaces draws upon thirty live concerts given over a two-year period for its seventy-seven minutes. While many of its eleven pieces are new, some are fresh updates of pieces featured on Frahm's earlier releases.
He stretches out on “For—Peter—Toilet Brushes—More” (seventeen minutes) and “Unter—Tristana—Ambre” (twelve), the former a rollicking, keyboards-heavy epic that combines motorik piano patterns in a minimalism style with synthesizers, and the latter a delicate, piano-centric workout of melancholic disposition. While the collection includes bravura displays of technique (consider the somersaulting gallop of “Hammers” as evidence), a track title such as “For—Peter—Toilet Brushes—More” shows that Frahm's got a light-hearted side, too. It's only to be expected that, given its explorative make-up, Spaces would be less cohesive than an album that fixates on a singular style. On the upside, it provides a more encompassing portrait of Frahm and presents him as a multi-faceted creator as open to playing a harmonium (Eberhard Ross's, specifically, as heard in—what else?—“Ross's Harmonium”) as his customary keyboard.