Classical, Jazz, New Music, World
Which Way Music WWM022
Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, June 1st, 2015
This album was difficult to resist given the names adorning it. The Grigoryan Brothers need no introduction. Slava and Leonard Grigoryan are highly renowned guitarists in both Australia and around the globe with many awards to their credit. Here they have collaborated with quite diverse composers, from the nouveau classical Nigel Westlake, to jazz composer and pianist Luke Howard to the American classical and jazz acoustic writer/guitarist Ralph Towner with whom Slava Grigoryan collaborated on the Travel Guide venture in 2012. Leonard Grigoryan, has also composed two stunning pieces on this album.
The writers are joined by Australians Shaun Rigney and Phillip Houghton and the British composer William Lovelady. The listener is struck by two contrasting features here. Firstly there is immense diversity in the compositions which straddle genres from neo-classical, to Spanish inspired, to minimalist. But where the music crosses many boundaries, there is a sense of family throughout. Australia has a relatively small community of high-flying musicians and they all know each other. Not only do they know each other, but there is incredible respect within this community for the creative and interpretative process of others when that respect is deserved. The majority of the works on this album have been written, or re-worked specifically for the duo. This revering by the composers for the performers and vice versa is elucidated powerfully in the musicianship throughout and is what makes it a stand-out.
One of the most persistent aspects of the album is that most ancient of musical devices, the drone. It is this wondrous constant that holds everything together, but it manifests itself in very different ways. It is there in Grigoryan’s title song with a beautiful melodic riff appearing once the bass motive has been established. The duo then just messes with these established motives with some lovely variations which feel vaguely Mediterranean.
Ralph Towner straddles jazz and classical music in his compositions. They have the meticulous attention to melodic and harmonic detail of a classical piece and then there is, again, some messing with time and place and jazz harmonies as the piece develops with some lovely extemporisation.
But I am a keen Luke Howard fan having watched him improvising in Anton Delecca’s Quartet with such agility and assuredness and then listening to his very contemplative and often quite sparse compositions, always a resting place for the soul. Howard’s work here is built on a drone on piano and the subtle use of percussion, particularly cymbal. Howard manages gorgeous builds in his work which never, however, disturb the peace. The syncopation in the melodic aspect of the music here is pure Howard, working its complex magic with humility.
Two Swings in the Heart Shaped Garden by Shaun Rigney has a beautiful and naïve feel to it. It is built on a circular underlying motif – the arc of the swings perhaps – and a ‘sigh your way into optimism’ kind of repeating melody creating the genesis of momentum which evolves into this lovely complex interplay between the two guitars (and more droning).
British composer William Lovelady wrote Incantation No. 2 for Slava Grigoryan but arranged it specifically for these two guitarists. It is a piece built on richly modulating jazz chord progressions making it reminiscent of the work of Pat Metheny with its layering and doubling of the octave in the melody.
Nigel Westlake, whose composition dates to 2010, also transcribed his work, Mosstrooper Peak for the Grigoryan Brothers. It is central in its placement on the album and a most rewarding work. Like many of Westlake’s later music, it encompasses a reflection on the life of his son Eli, who was killed in tragic circumstances. Westlake created memorials to Eli in locations down the eastern coast of Australia. These are musical memorials in a sense. They are all evocative of the sea and there is its unpredictability, its waywardness, its awe. Initially this is conveyed gently. The piece Mosstrooper Peak is more turbulent and very rich in its expressiveness, whereas Nara’s Inlet is quiet and reflective. Smokey Cape is my favourite of the suite. It explores Westlake’s penchant for rhythmic complexity, it is technically challenging and the build from a point of pure simplicity is sensational. There are even moments of surf music here. It is also in many regards, celebratory and that does the heart good.
Leonard Grigoryan’s second piece on this album, After Dark is just such a beautiful composition and as with others on the album, is built with an underlying drone over which a melodic pattern germinates and flowers.
Philip Houghton works with panning of sound, silence, harmonics, harmonic effects and fabulously crunched repetitive chords which build and drop away, build and drop to create stunning waves in his Wave Radiance. It is quite different to anything else on the album. David Bridie’s piece Wires similarly creates this wave impact. It is great to see composers exploring the less loved elements in new works – texture, dynamics, tempo, articulation and sound placement. Thank you minimalists!
I continue to find new joy, new adventures in this album with each fresh listening. It will be most surprising if this album is not viewed with a keen eye by those searching for an ARIA nominee.
VIEW AND LISTEN: www.grigoryanbrothers.com