Stefan Aeby – Piano Solo
(Intakt Records CD332. CD review by Brian Marley)Stefan Aeby’s 2018 Intakt release, The London Concert, featured a standard piano trio. A very good trio. On Piano Solo the music is far from standard, and not quite jazz, although it does contain Erroll Garner’s Misty. The other 13 pieces on the CD are Aeby compositions, and although most are freely improvised, all feature strong thematic and structural elements.
The recording took place in a rehearsal room in Berne. Aeby plays piano, prepared piano and live electronics. Apparently, he stayed in the studio for two days with the recording equipment switched on and ready to go, day or night, so he could immediately get to work when inspiration struck. The results are diverse and occasionally disorientating. Subway Run begins with Aeby rubbing the piano strings in short sweeps, creating a drone that swells and fades like a python that has eaten six small mammals in a row. Gradually, electronics modify the drone, sampling the results and creating a rhythmic loop, to which Aeby adds drone embellishments. The track that follows, Mr Pong, is a brief set of looped episodes through which muffled piano notes emerge in short flurries. It’s playful, as are most of the tracks on the CD.
Nothing on Piano Solo is allowed to outstay its welcome. As soon as Aeby has got what he wants, and as much of it as he wants, he brings the proceedings to a close. The only track that tops the five-minute mark is Misty, played langorously and with great tenderness. Aeby really does have a fine touch. Another wholly melodic track is Flingga. On top of a jaunty, two-chord rhythmic sequence that jumps about like an alien in the arcade game Space Invaders, Aeby overdubs spontaneous runs that fly off the fingertips, nonchalant and joyful. At first, Or Not seems to question its own existence in a series of stop-start phrases, but in the end the feeling of puzzlement is satisfactorily resolved.
Rhythm is often foregrounded in the prepared piano pieces, as it was in John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes, the instrument becoming an orchestra of tuned percussion. The electronic treatments that Aeby employs broaden the scope even further. What’s surprising is that although most tracks are very short and often very different from each other, the music doesn’t feel undernourished or bitty, and there’s a sense of wholeness to Piano Solo that rewards listening from beginning to end rather than just a track or two at a time.