Stephen Grew
Now we are Here
Discus 174CD
(2022)
Available formats: CD/DL

Stephen Grew – piano

These pieces in many ways, notwithstanding live performances on other pianos and many hours on a weighted electronic keyboard, are the culmination of ten years’ work on one particular piano, a Kawai model 2A, this piano resides at Lancaster Baptist Church, Lancaster, in the north of England.

I have found this instrument a real challenge to play, its action is particularly unyielding, so my efforts to work with this beautiful instrument have brought out a broad and joyful range of inventions; incorporating many different patterns, timbres, rapid fire techniques and mysterious changes in dynamic mood, which I have invented and have soaked into my muscle memory. It’s this attempt to discover something new coupled with decades of tactile exploration that plays a large role in shaping the music. I learn more and more about playing the piano and how far I can develop my individual techniques, compositional skills, and how to bring about something worthwhile and exciting!

– Stephen Grew

51CD - Weavels
151CD
Stephen Grew
Chasm – The St. James’ & St. Basil’s Suite

Reviews

This set represents Grew’s decade or so battle to tame a very specific piano. The piano is a Kawai model 2A and can be found in Lancaster Baptist Church. As Grew notes, the piano has a ‘particularly unyielding’ action, and he has tried a variety of techniques to tease notes from this recalcitrant beast. The longest pieces, ‘Passion in the keys – the miracle of mechanical ingenuity’, track 5 (at almost 22 minutes), ‘Raw Energy, High Charge, track 2 (at around 13½ minutes), and ‘Now we are here (with chips)’, track 1 (at almost 14 minutes), present different phases of this battle. On the opening piece, ‘Now we are Here (with chips)’ he cajoles the piano into rumbling runs that build in intensity (in ways that might shake the church foundations or scare the church mice into hiding or disturb any parishioners visiting while he played). It is in the softer moments of this piece that you appreciate Grew’s tenacity to work this instrument because the softest notes are struck with force just to give them a slight sustain. I’m not sure what ‘chips’ are referred to in the title, but he definitely earned a plateful to keep his energy up. I was struck by the punctuation of the title on the CD sleeve – with ‘we’ in lower case and ‘Here’ capitalised, which (intentional or not) conveys a sense in which ‘we’ are subservient and required to confront ‘Here’ (that is, this Church, with this piano). Following the opening piece, ‘Raw Energy, High Charge’ has Grew pushing the arpeggios to an even greater extent, with faster runs and stronger, more forceful hitting of the keys. In ‘Passion in the keys’, Grew’s respect of the piano’s idiosyncrasies and the delicate balance between his and its intent becomes even more apparent. This feeling of wrestling the piano is rather like the ways in which a wild horse might be brought to state to allow it to permit a saddle and reins to be fitted and a rider allowed to mount. The aim is not to subdue the horse (or piano) so much as to make it a willing accomplice in the enterprise of horse riding (piano playing). If this album were simply a document of the process through which Grew and the piano arrived at their alliance, then it would be a fascinating account. But there is something deeper in the ways in which Grew’s compositions / improvisations draw out the beauty of this piano that had, perhaps, endured a lifetime of repetitively stately hymns and marches, and encourages it to realise a beauty. Even more than this, Grew’s pieces themselves are captivating experiments in form and a masterclass in solo piano. – Chris Baber.JAZZ VIEWS https://jazzviews.net/stephen-grew-now-we-are-here/

After “All There Is” (2017) with Trevor Watts and most recently “Chasm – The St. James’ & St. Basil’s Suite”, STEPHEN GREW will be seen again on Now we are Here (DISCUS 174) on 6.11.2023 at the Kawai cabinet wing model KG 2A in the Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster. The thesis that, apart from Cecil Taylor and Keith Tippett, any other piano music has a hard time, at least on Discus, drips off Grew. The way he combines ultra-virtuoso swirling, rummaging, jumping, motor intelligence and high-energy dynamics with timbral finesse and lyrical contrasts has added up to a maximalism of its own kind in years of dealing with the special instrument – he did it from Heysham not far to Lancaster. In doing so, he – ‘Passion in the Keys’ – focuses on keyboard wizardry, virtuoso arpeggio and astonishing glass bead magic, modernist and with romantic or mystically sublime forms encased in amber, but without preparations or fingerings in the inner piano. Instead, there is a captivatingly agile and swarm-like abundance of notes, like a kind of maximalist Lubomyr Melnyk or organic Conlon Nancarrow. With a flash of light and again agitated arrival and ‘Secret Worlds’ as a lyrical, finely spotted finale. – Rigobert Dittmann, BAD ALCHEMY

Experienced English free improviser Stephen Grew, known for collaborations with avant-garde figures like Evan Parker and Trevor Watts, presents a solid solo recording of 6 piano improvisations. Enthusiasts of Matthew Shipp, the late Keith Tippett, or the freer side of Robert Mitchell and Pat Thomas will appreciate Grew’s work most. – MARLBANK

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