May 27, 2022
a grain of Earth - Marta Warelis
Label: Relative Pitch Records
Catalog #: RPRSS014
Location: United States
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Media: compact disc or digital download
Let us begin this review with a story of how we came upon this music. When the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House compiled our Top Ten Records of 2021, we included Confluence by Magda Mayas' Filamental. We had heard three other albums by Ms. Mayas, but Confluence was the album that really turned the switch for us with regard to appreciating her unique vision. So, as is our habit, we began to explore her previous released body of work. In doing so, we discovered many delightful recordings. The one relevant to this review was Piano Trialogues in which the guitar/drum duo of Nicola Hein and Etienne Nillesen was joined on three long tracks by three different pianists, one of whom was Magda Mayas. The last track featured Marta Warelis on prepared piano. To the best of our memory, this was our introduction to Ms. Warelis and her music.
a grain of Earth represents our next encounter with the music of Ms. Warelis. It is, we are informed, her first solo recording. Her profile on discogs.com is brief, "Polish jazz pianist". We understand that jazz is an idiom, which encourages creativity. Many jazz musicians also explore musical territory that doesn't, musically speaking, bear much resemblance to recognizable traits of jazz. So perhaps Ms. Warelis is a jazz pianist, but our exposure to her music, including that on a grain of Earth is not jazzy. So then what is it? We prefer the appellation favored by Derek Bailey, "non-idiomatic improvisation", because describing a music by negation, as in outside pre-existing idioms, still leaves an unbounded space.
The nine tracks allow Ms. Warelis to demonstrate the full voice of the acoustic piano. We find the never-ending balance of melody and dissonance. Some tracks fall further to one side of the spectrum and other tracks to the opposite side. There are several tracks where the music is not instantly recognizable as emanating from a piano. For example, invisible threads bears a greater sonic resemblance to Ellen Fullman's long string instrument. Other tracks have percussive elements, which we suppose are generated from some strucural part of the piano. In the juxtaposition of sounds, occurring within tracks as well as between tracks, we hear the artist's interest in both constructive and destructive interference. Within a piece, one discordant sound is set off by a clear note. In the same way, the melody of one track is accentuated by the absence of tension that appeared in the previous track.
We note that there is a brief (one-paragraph) introduction to the music that appears on the bandcamp page; this description is insightful and worth reading in terms of guiding the listener's experience, though we are not inclined to reproduce it in this review, where we search for our own words.
An inherent appeal of collective improvisation is the dynamic real-time interaction between collaborators. Still, as listeners, we harbor a special appreciation for solo recordings, in which the musician provides a singular expression of their personal voice. For this reason, we have been following the Relative Pitch Records Solo Series with interest. We had erroneously thought, based on the first nine releases, that the series was to be exclusively composed of saxophone solos. With the addition of a grain of Earth, we discover that the series has broader ambitions. We have very much enjoyed every release in this series thus far and a grain of Earth is no exception.