Stephen Grew
Chasm – The St. James’ & St. Basil’s Suite
Discus 151CD
(2023)
Available formats: CD/DL

 

“His piano lays those 88 key characters out like a map. The route taken is the interpretation of the chasm between what Grew describes simply as ‘nothing’ and ‘play’. It’s a journey which this musician continues to make with a remarkable passion and honesty. It’s an honour to get close to music like this. My thanks to you Stephen, play on.” – Steve Day, 2023 www.wyldepublications.com

“A finely wrought and surely everlasting piece of work.” – Darren Bergstein, Downtown Music Gallery, NYC

 

Stephen Grew – piano

Stephen Grew writes – “I’ve always loved the reality of an empty canvas. To be confronted by what seems at first like nothing, this by comparison is like the stark piano keys and its voice inside the box! With its dormant, silent strings and hammers intact, to finally depress the keys to uncover an unknown sound world which finally comes into play.”

Dynamism, clarity and precise beauty in the playing. A wonderful recording engineered by Charlie McGovern in a dramatic acoustic space.  Prepare to add this glorious, magnificent release to your list of favourite solo piano records.

Reviews

In February 2015 Stephen Grew brought out a solo CD call called Lit & Phil Suite, recorded in a church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a responsive Kawai grand piano.  I still play the album, it’s a classic.  There was no record company involvement, he did it because he had to, needed to, Mr Grew’s playing was truly generous and inventive.  I also caught the impressive duos album he made with the likes of Pat Thomas and Keith Tippett.  Later I did a concert at St Stephen’s in Bristol, Stephen was also on the bill, again playing solo piano. It was around this time, 2017, that he brought out a duet recording with the alto sax maestro Trevor Watts, All There Is, this time for the Discus label.  My review read: “This is a sumptuous reeds and piano that is going to garner a lot of praise – as long as people are listening…” Some people as soon as the word ‘improvisation’ is mentioned suddenly encounter wax in the ear. My hope is this new suite, Chasm (again reliant on a church setting to produce a deeply complex piano etude) will get at least some media traction.  Grew and Trevor Watts are taking a gig trip to Berlin this September.  It all helps, maybe. Okay let’s state the fact: Stephen Grew is a virtuoso, he has a technical ability that is awesome.  Now put that aside; the real quality touch to this new recording is Stephen’s innate ability to track his own movement over long-form spontaneous composition; a sustained, contained concentration enabling the pianist to quote his own improv at strategic moments – two hand runs, crossed rhythmic arpeggios and top-end drones… he clutches the tremor of a master like Cecil Taylor but he hangs his form and pulse closer to pianist/composer/improvisers like Terry Riley and La Monte Young.  There are only four tracks, each one special and differing in construction. He imbibes a sense of freedom, yet even on the shortest track, the final End of The Chasm, there is an awareness of composure, even amid a running deconstructed scale.  The implied severance in the title of ‘the suite’ cuts down into the sound; it perfectly describes what’s happening here.  There is a Chasm, but it results in a ‘managed’ fall more like flying. Perhaps that’s why Stephen included Graeme Ryan’s poetic sleeve note of sea birds and the moon.  In my view Mr Grew is not about “the moon at noon”.  He doesn’t actually need this review or poetic descriptions… he simply is required listening. The piano lays those 88 key characters out like a map, the route taken is the interpretation of the chasm between what Grew describes as ‘nothing’ and ‘play’.  It’s a journey which this musician continues to make with a remarkable passion.  My thanks once again to Discus and Stephen. – Steve Day, 2023 www.wyldepublications.com

Pianist and improvisor Stephen Grew brings an entire legacy of instrumental heft and command to bear on this spellbinding recording. Captured live in the cathedral resonances of both the St. James and St. Basil churches in Newcastle, England (and lovingly produced by Charles McGovern) every crystalline tone, keystrike, and emotional state is rendered in base relief by the performer, whose breadth of invention and variegated turns of phrase is both beguiling and seemingly effortless. Grew manages what few innovators save for the likes of Cecil Taylor, Ahmad Jamal, or Keith Jarrett can do, auguring entire worlds of sound forged from the melding of manual dexterity and imaginative bravado. This is of course most amply demonstrated during the half-hour plus discourse of “Light in the Chasm”, which alternates between long tidal waves of sweeping chords and the kind of dense tone clusters produced in a pristine rush by the aforementioned Taylor. Grew achieves a similar stridency that is instantly captivating. His talent is almost a force of nature, rippling with a limitless energy that he harnesses with great aplomb. The lengthy piece grabs you by the lapels and never lets go; even when Grew takes a breath (demanding the audience does likewise), it’s obvious he’s merely shifting gears, catapulting from one set of vibrant ideas to the next. Whether straddling the piano’s more earthy gesticulations, a series of minor key modalities that might ruffle the feathers of more conservative listeners, or probe sensitive, meditative sequences of arch minimalism and abject silences that occur about ten minutes in, the latent power in these moves never diminishes for a second. The following “Run in the Chasm” and closer “End of the Chasm” channels the furious power of classical composers such as Dvorak or Sibelius though some strikingly beautiful shafts of light manage to permeate the darkness even in the quietest moments. A finely wrought and surely everlasting piece of work. – Darren Bergstein, Downtown Music Gallery, NYC

Stephen Grew has been testing the limits of the piano for the best part of four decades, alone and in collaboration, and the extraordinary thing about this album is that he still finds so much ground to cover, revelling in the freedom of what he describes as the blank canvas of the piano. It must be quite thrilling to constantly be refreshed by the act of sitting in front of the keyboard awaiting a spark of intuition from which his personality then unfolds. At times tentative and at others joyful, yet always unexpected; collections of notes, like natural clusters, flower heads or the branches of trees explode, sporadic, excitable, ever yearning for some fresh experience. Constant flux is the state here and although the four pieces gathered on Chasm are discernibly different, they are all part of some forward motion, some momentum that gives no opportunity to even glance backwards instead searching, gathering, processing and then, fingers dancing across the keys, escaping. The sensation of tacking hard into a heavy, growing breeze, notes collected and flung headlong and tearing across a clear sky is always present, and you can almost feel Stephen’s mind working, searching for progress, the pastoral moments allowing a touch of reflection and then silence as an impasse is reached. How best to extricate from the doldrums, clouds slumbering in the half-light, ruminative gestures that hint at some inner peace. Elsewhere, the joys of a sun-burnished landscape overseen by a skittering kite, adrift, its many colours dipping and swirling, are mirrored by the depth and resonance of those low notes that gather like an impending storm. You can feel the emotions flowing through his fingers: joy, delight, pensiveness, abandon, a real sense of release. There is a flow here that revisits nothing. You may feel a hint of familiarity at some of the structure, faint recognition of these pieces’ places in the progression of solo piano, and you can feel his love for the instrument, undimmed after decades and of what it is capable. Towards the end, the quiet reflection allows what has passed before to truly sink in, stentorian gloom and introspection crossing the face of the music temporarily before the clouds lift and the positivity resumes, drawing the listener to a conclusion that is always a delight. The simple clarity of Charlie McGovern‘s production finds the sounds glowing, ever present and shining brightly. This is a true treat for anyone enamoured with solo piano. -Mr Olivetti, FREQ https://freq.org.uk/reviews/stephen-grew-chasm/

Grew wie in Grew Trio, Mick Beck & Grew, Grutronic, Grew Quartet, Martin Pyne & Grew, Trevor Watts & Grew… Wie STEPHEN GREW, der in Lancaster seit Mitte der 90er das Piano als Klangquelle ausschöpft und doch an kein Ende kommt. Chasm – The St. James’ & St. Basil’s Suite (DISCUS 151CD) zeigt ihn am 24.1.2023 in Fenham, Newcastle. The North is protected, mehr oder weniger – Captain Henry Basil Knottund Major James Knott, zu deren Andenken ihr Vater die St. James’ & St. Basil’s Church erbauen ließ, fielen im Großen Krieg, der eine im September 1915, der andere am 1.7.1916 in der fürchterlichen Schlächterei an der Somme. ‘Light in the Chasm’, ‘Run in the Chasm’ und ‘End of the Chasm’ als nur ein weiterer Zwischenstop haben Graeme Ryan zu ‘Sound – Tide’ angeregt, ein Gedicht, in dem in Wasserdampf und Sonnenfeuer Akkorde aus geschmolzenem Erz gegossen werden, in dem hinter der Brandung Containerschiffe und Fähren kreuzen. Hervorgerufen vom Piano als schnittigem Segler, als Vollblut, dessen galoppierende Hufe die Fluten aufschäumen, Lichtblitze werfen, Erinnerungen aufreißen und Dinge des Lebens bewusst machen wie lange nicht. Wie die Kirchenglocke könnten die 88 Tasten inskribiert sein mit: We ring in memory of… Grew arpeggiert und hämmert mit kristaliner Rasanz und Insistenz, die Finger quirlen, springen, staksen, wechseln so schnell, wie nur motorische Intelligenz und freisinnige Intuition es triggern können, zwischen flüchtigem Touch, dezidierten Noten, spritzenden Tropfen, linder Berührung, sanftem Druck. Von quecksilbrig, wackelig, harfig, sprudelig zu noch quecksilbriger, wackeliger, harfiger, sprudeliger. Aber doch auch von koboldig zu bedächtig, zu völliger Stille,. Und wieder zu zickzackenden Sprüngen, brodelnden Turbulenzen, hinkenden Schrittchen. Grew ist ein Meister der 1000 Noten, der prickelnden Überfülle, jedoch nicht ohne elegischen Vorbehalt, der nicht nur dem Raum geschultet scheint. Doch das Koboldige dominiert, quick und insistent, bis es sich schlussendlich Schritt für Schritt in die Tiefe zurückzieht. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY [BA 119 rbd]

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