Lubomyr Melnyk: Rivers and Streams
For anyone unfamiliar with Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk and his infamous ‘Continuous Music' concept, Rivers and Streams is as good as any a place to start—it's certainly a high-quality account of his artistry. And further to that, the selection of rivers and streams for the title is wholly apropos, given how naturally such elemental physical phenomena function as analogues to his playing style. It's not uncommon for adjectives such as rippling, flowing, chiming, and glistening to spring to mind as one listens to—nay, is absorbed or subsumed by—Melnyk's oft-torrential playing. While the water theme is referenced in every title, the scale of the water body differs: some allude to smaller pools and streams; the recording's longest piece, on the other hand, is dedicated to the world's largest river, the Amazon.
In contrast to 2014's surprisingly gentle EP Evertina (textura's number one EP pick of 2014, incidentally), Rivers and Streams largely returns to Melnyk's more familiar style, one marked by endless cascades and volleys of densely layered patterns. And unlike the 2013 full-length Corollaries, which Peter Broderick produced, the new collection's creation was overseen by Robert Raths and Jamie Perera; the detail isn't insignificant, as the latter contributes acoustic and electric guitar to one of the four compositions.
Anyone wishing to draw a parallel between Melnyk and Philip Glass could conceivably use “Parasol” as a basis for the argument, especially when the piece opens with an alternation between chords that's noticeably Glass-like. But Melnyk distances himself from Glass in the way his patterns loosen their ties to strict repetition and embrace a more organic developmental form; yes, patterns do recur, but they do so as part of a natural ebb and flow rather than predictably. “The Pool of Memories,” a live recording captured in a church, comes closest to resurrecting the wistful tone and stripped-down style of Evertina, even if the elegant meditation gradually builds to a level of density equal to the album's other pieces; Melnyk's virtuoso playing is nevertheless so seductive, one can't help but be pulled into its oceanic mass. As it advances through its many modulations, the lovely reverie “Sunshimmers” sparkles as incandescently as one might expect from something so titled.As wonderful as it is to hear Melnyk playing by himself, the album benefits from the presence of guests on two pieces: in providing a lockstep contrapuntal dimension to the piano, Perera's guitar playing subtly enriches the moving sound poetry of “Ripples in a Water Scene”; Korean flautist Hyelim Kim similarly broadens out the grandiose soundworld of “The Amazon: The Highlands” by spreading resonant, shakuhachi-like flourishes across Melnyk's insistently rippling base. Yet while the recording's enhanced by the guests' presence, it's only right that Rivers and Streams should close with a solo performance by the pianist; in that regard, “The Amazon: The Lowlands” makes for a fitting exeunt in its presentation of Melnyk alone and unfiltered, releasing glorious cascades of arpeggio figures and ascendant melodies into the open air.