Dominik Wania – Lonely Shadows
(ECM 0869583. CD review by Mary James)
Lonely Shadows, a solo album by Polish pianist Dominik Wania is the result of much patience: it’s been seven years since Wania’s 2013 debut album Ravel, since which there have also been two well-received albums on ECM with saxophonist Maciej Obara. And now comes his reward, a solo album recorded at Swiss-Italian Radio’s celebrated Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, produced by Manfred Eicher and engineered by Stefano Amerio. This auditorium’s piano has been used by everyone from Martha Argerich to Tigran Hamasyan and in many ECM recordings since 2013. Small wonder then that Wania could take a perfect experience for granted and was free to concentrate on a fully improvised work for which he did not prepare any forms or sketches: he wanted to be inspired by the room and the piano.
One of the great beauties of this album is hearing every note resonate, you hold your breath to hang on to the last fragments of sound, they hang in the air. There is a glittery surface to the music much like Maurice Ravel’s works, and like those, there is depth where emotions are explored. Those who know say that it is fiendishly difficult to play Ravel, that there are so many notes, you need more than ten fingers and there’s little space for improvisation. Ravel himself said he was a composer of the mind, not the heart.
We are gently led into the thoughtful atmosphere of Lonely Shadows with the opening eponymous track where a sense of sadness and loss pervades, and the tone for the remainder is set and maintained throughout. Each track is a picture in its own right, titles such as Melting Spirit and Liquid Fluid being apt in describing the surface and undercurrents of the sound. AG76 is a homage to Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński whose dystopian surreal images have a dreamlike quality to them, and in which Wania has used the escapement lever of the piano to change the sound very subtly. There is a sense of calm throughout this album, time passes slowly. Relativity seems almost the odd one out on first listening, with its jumpy beginning and dissonance, wider range of dark and volume, and sense of inner turmoil and doubt.
The title of the final track, All What Remains, could prompt reference to Philip Larkin and a frequently repeated misquote from An Arundel Tomb, “All that remains of us is love”. In fact Larkin’s words are “Only an attitude remains […] What will survive of us is love.”. But isn’t that the perfect thought to end an album on?
In the liner notes Wania expresses his wish that we don’t lose sight of hope in an age of widespread crisis. Wania has created a timeless artwork of luminous beauty that will outlive the current calamity and many to come. This is an album of the heart that simultaneously pays attention to all the technicalities of touch, nuance and delicacy that we can depend upon from a classically trained pianist whilst displaying the nimble improvisation of the finest jazz pianists.