Nils Frahm: Solo.

CD, 2015.
All solo piano, quiet, very close miced and measured in feel.
The cover explains more. The piano he used is a custom built instrument made by David Klavins in 1987. It’s enormous, the longest strings are 10ft long. The blue diagram shows its layout.
As it’s played, other small sounds can be heard from the mechanism. That’s not unusual in piano music, but with Frahm’s style, those working sounds are more obvious. Space between notes opens your ears to the shape and construction of each key press.
The result is peaceful and deliberate. The same characteristics melt into your own mood,

Harold Budd/The Necks

10ºC, dry, getting windy

Gig in Stan’s Cafe Birmingham, – both ambient music, in an interesting venue- a metal pressing factory conversion in the Jewelery Quater, Birmingham. There wasn’t a great deal of conversion made to the buliding, it was clean but no effort had been put into decorating the place. We waited in the entry shed with a feeling of anticipation that was different to other performances. The audience was mostly middle-aged men, all wrapped up in thick winter clothes and many beards.

Harold Budd came on first and did a single piece 45 minute set. He began softly playing curious little phrases on the grand piano while the only other musician played a box of tricks that manipulated piano and ambient sounds. The presentation was very soft, distant and unspectacular. There was I, full of head-cold tired from work listening while drifting near to sleep but not loosing contact with the music at any point. Near the end as the sound tailed off, someone coughed and the sound reverberated inside the black box and I wondered how the audience-performer relationship would have changed if they had built on this intruded sound in their own playing.

The Necks had much in common with the first set, though three musicians who didn’t appear to use any electronic manipulation this time. The sound grew to a massive wall of sound just from percussion, double-bass and grand piano. The overlapping patterns each produced created other rhythms within. There was less space in the sound, but the overall structure was clearer. As before, beginning quietly, the crescendo was huge and tailed off at the end. Each instrument sounded  anxious and distant which created tension with the others. This is music, like Budd, that had no melody, not broken into separate pieces but was bound by soft overlapping rhythms that bound it all together. There was none of the harshness that characterised amplified wall-of-sound pieces heard in other venues. You can’t beat live “unplugged” performances.

The show was somehow part of the London Jazz festival. I can’t help feeling that I don’t really have a working definition of “Jazz” though. What makes something “Jazz”?