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Nils Frahm The Bells Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Pianist poised to find a wider audience with this set of stellar improvisations.

Spencer Grady 2010

To take nothing away from its chief architect, a large part of The Bell’s beguiling power undoubtedly comes from the environment in which it was recorded and the instructive presence of its almost silent partner.  

The Bells was originally issued as part of wunderkind Peter Broderick’s Kning Disk’s Piano Series and it is Broderick’s involvement here that forms the project’s catalyst. By proffering oblique instructions during its recording, such as “make a song that you could imagine me rapping over” and even suggesting, from a prone position laying inside the piano, that Frahm should improvise around the title Peter is Dead in the Piano, Broderick was able to provide the prodigious young pianist with focus and inspiration.

The resultant pieces feel so alive that you can almost sense the pressure of Frahm’s fingers alighting on each key as these solemn improvisations begin to weave their magic. Their unrefined organic energy and resonance is undoubtedly due to the natural reverb of the old church in Berlin where this set was recorded, one cold night in November 2008.

For the most part, these are delicate hymnals that act as balms for the mind, fittingly, quasi-ecclesiastical in nature. But, occasionally, Frahm elects for more tumultuous tributaries as on The Bells’ penultimate track, It Was Really, Really Grey. Here the echoing chambers of the old church – its aisles, apse and chancel – throw the notes around until the music begins to approximate the continuous music of Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk.

However, all this is to ignore Frahm’s innate gift and creative approach, which differs from most of his contemporaries – Max Richter, Goldmund and Sylvain Chauveau – in its reliance on instinct, allowing his evident poise, touch and imagination (check out the mournful Over There, It’s Raining) to awaken these sorrowful passages from their slumber.

If there’s any justice The Bells, along with his recently released Wintermusik set, will expose Frahm to a wider audience, a demographic with a seemingly insatiable appetite for more prime neo-classicism.

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