Graham Reid | | 4 min read
As recently as April – just three months ago – Elsewhere acknowledged not just the quality of recordings on Auckland's contemporary music label Rattle, but the sheer number of albums it is releasing.
As we had done in August 2017, we pulled a bunch of them together in a single column (as we are going to do here) but would also note that between times we had also reviewed many other Rattle albums individually.
Things happen fast at Rattle and so, when we coined the phrase “a provocation of Rattles" for that previous column, we now look at more such provocations . . .
Steve Barry: Hatch
As Australia-based pianist Steve Barry says in the liner notes to these recordings, it is hard not to be daunted by the availability of music for solo piano. So rather than drill down into any specific genre – because his background is in improvisation as much as the 20thand 21stcentury repertoire – he simply goes wide and draws on everything from Bach and Debussy to Morton Feldman, echoes of Keith Jarrett and those who have encouraged him (Mike Nock and Mike Walker among them).
Recorded at the Sydney Conservatorium – with pianist Stephanie McCallum on the lively duet Piano Suite I: A Dance? – the music here can be idiosyncratic and dense (Avian Bagatelle) or quietly studious and exploratory (See-Saw).
The main pieces are punctuated by shorter Interlude passages, and there is a seven-part suite (parts three and four not included) which includes a very witty sequence Mice which indeed does sound like well-disciplined mice on a keyboard. Plink from the same suite is a highpoint for its spacious and angular minimalism.
Perhaps not the most aproachable solo piano album you will hear, but one with a wealth of information and enjoyment to explore over time.
Postlude, by Steve Barry
Lixin Zhang: Play
Also solo piano, but this announcing a major – and impossibly young – talent; 16-year old Lixin Zhang who is still in his final year at high school in Christchurch but has already won awards, been invited to perform internationally and is someone we will probably lose – if we haven't already – to a great career on the concert circuit.
The title here is key: This is him playing pieces he enjoys and they run from thumping Schumann to Chopin Etudes, Liszt's lovely Liebestraum No 3, an arrangement for piano of Glinka's elegant song The Lark, four pieces by Edwin Carr, Debussy . . .
It may appear as something akin to a business card, but the sheer pleasure he brings (the Chopins are beguiling), the emotional depths he effortlessly explores and the understated virtuosity (The Lark, the incendiary evocation in Debussy's Feux D'Artifice) lift this well beyond a mere notification of intent and into some wonderful playing in its own right . . . and pleasurable listening.
If this young man can keep hold of the pleasure of play – and the cheerful cover photos suggest he probably can – then his future seems boundless.
Feux d'artifice (Debussy), by Lixin Zhang
Anita Schwabe: Eat Your Greens
And even more piano, but this time in a more straight-ahead jazz context which lines New Zealand pianist Schwabe up with Roger Manins (saxophone), Ron Samsom (drums) and bassist Cameron McArthur, all names which should be familiar to Elsewhere readers.
Pianist, composer and longtime jazz lecturer Schwabe is one of those under-recorded artists but acknowledgement came at the recent Wellington Jazz festival where she won the Apra/Amcos Jazz Composition of the Year Award for her delightfully evocative Spring Tide which sits near the centre of this excellent and long overdue album. It is followed by the slightly melancholy ballad Spring Rambings which Manins lifts from a reflective place into something more outgoing. They are both excellent compositions but alongside those reflective pieces however there is some swinging and exciting playing (Anger Management which precedes them has very high energy levels).
But is the more measured pieces (The Darkness Shall Be Light, The Stillness The Dancing and Thermal Soaring) which you might find yourself returning to the most.
The clip below was filmed last year and capture Schwabe live in concert. Really worth a look.
There Once Was a Time, by Anita Schwabe
Fraser/Burridge/Johnstone: Shearwater Drift
We always acknowledge and salute Rattle's commitment to the sonic arts in releasing albums – like this – which will doubtless only sell to family and very close friends interested in evocative landscapes of sound where taonga puoro (by Al Fraser) rubs shoulders with percussion, created soundscapes and synths (by Steve Burridge and Neil Johnstone).
With assistance from Ross Harris (accordion sounds on one track), pianist Nick Pilcher (on another) and treated sea samples by Robert Baldock on the eerie but barely-there Cloud Shadow, this album of 18 pieces explores the sound of the elements in a loose arc from day to night, but also acknowledges the unknowable past and the mysteries of the present.
Electronic artist John Cousins spoke of how time in nature moves at a different pace than how we perceive it, and recent research suggests animals have very different relationships to time and duration than humans, and each other. So an album like this feeds into the idea of taking and making the time to slow down and just wait without expectation for what might, or might not, happen.
Amidst what seems like aural slowness and stasis, things do happen. Or don't.
The only way you will find out is to stop, be patient, go with it and listen carefully.
That said, I still don't hear a hit single!
Haunted by Lotus Pollen, by Shearwater Drift