David Shea – Piano 1

Posted: 4 September 2016 in Albums
Tags: , , , , ,

ROOM40 – RM476

Christopher Nosnibor

We seem to have been inundated with piano-based works here at Aural Aggravation recently. If that’s not remarkable in itself then the diversity of the music they contain is. David Shea’s Piano 1 is by far the most conventional-sounding of them. This is by no means a criticism: much as I spend the majority of my time immersing myself in and hugely appreciating experimental works, spanning the most abrasive noise to the murkiest of ambience and anywhere in between – even near-silence has its place, to appreciate any one thing, exposure to its polar opposite is invaluable. Piano 1 isn’t strictly a polarity against works like Antony Burr and Anthony Pateras’ The Long Exhale, Angelina Yershova’s Piano’s Abyss or James Batty’s Sanctuary, it is a very different kind of record in that it focuses largely on musicality over experimentation. It would also be erroneous to suggest musicality and experimentation are at offs with one another: even the most extreme avant-garde anti-music is born out of music, and often works best when its creation involves a purposeful breaking of the rules rather than an ignorance of them.

In the notes which accompany the album, Shea explains the significance of the piano throughout his life, that he grew up exposed to classical and jazz piano works, as well as the greats of the avant-garde, and, while his career has been centred around music, his primary focus has been on composition rather than performance, admitting that his compositional works often exceeds his ow technical abilities. As such, Piano I documents Shea’s repositioning himself in the role of musician, testing and pushing beyond his limitations. ‘I spent a year unravelling my past approach to composing for piano and explored my own phyucal technique,’ he writes. ‘No preparations, no samples, no extended electronics or reliance on overdubs or reliance on my past sample acoustic techniques. The result of this year of practice, writing, listening, exploring and recording is this CD’. As such, it’s a very honest and sonically unpretentious album which finds Shea exploring his relationship with the instrument in terms of composition and musicianship, and an album on which the piano sounds like a piano.

The first track, ‘Mirror’ is a sedate, rolling piece which is as much about the way the notes sustain and the spaces between notes as the notes themselves as he skips between the octaves unexpectedly, Shea exploiting the full span of the keyboard. The imaginatively-titled ‘Suite Pts 1-8’ manifests as a sequence of elegant, delicate pieces, the majority of which are short and fragmentary, yet feel like more than mere sketches. ‘Magnet’s represents the least overtly ‘pianific’ piece on the album, with a sighing, quavering drone.

The album’s second ‘set’ of compositions, the four-part ‘Tribute to Mancini’ (Henry, not Roberto) reflect a different style, also demonstrates not only the versatility of the piano even when played conventionally, but also Shea’s awareness of and ability to utilise the instrument to convey different mood.

At times, the lilting flow of the playing halts abruptly, and the sense of real-time playing, of rehearsal, is conveyed, and this gives the album a strong sense of intimacy. While Shea explains at length that he does not consider himself to be ‘a pianist’, the performances here demonstrate he’s an adept musician.




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