Whereas Matt Baber’s excellent ‘Outskirts’ album from 2013 still had many anchor points in rock music, his second official album (he has privately made about 10 others) is something completely different. For lack of better (or any!) knowledge, I would say that his ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ in nine parts is a modern classical record.
Together with Joff Winks, Matt is the creative core behind progressive rock band Sanguine Hum. One of the aspects that makes Sanguine Hum such a unique experience is Matt’s textural work, utilising both electronics and keyboards. And you can recognise some of that here, with flights of notes that both loop and move at the same time; although they are repeated they also swirl and transform. And just like with Matt’s work in Sanguine Hum, there is quite some drama to uncover as chaos and structure combine.
Compared to solo extravaganzas made by keyboard wizards of yore, like Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz, this is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Minimalistic and maybe influenced by the likes of Terry Riley or Philip Glass. And that is a good thing indeed.
Although the album starts off with a warbling electronic sound, this really is a piano album more than anything else. The electronics mostly create a context in which the ivory tones are wrapped.
And it works beautifully. Rather than diminishing the electronics, the effect is really to focus the listener on the physicality of the piano. Five of the tracks have electronic intros; they almost function as handrails that offer a piano music novice like me something to hold on to.
Despite the simple instrumentation, there is nevertheless a lushness to this music that makes me think of rain-soaked, rolling hills in the English countryside. Little melodies gather like rainwater in pools on the soft slopes and flow in rivulets of tones. And organically, they sometimes develop into quite catchy little tunes.
I am quite out of my depth with this album. It is not something I would listen to if it wasn’t for Matt Baber. But that just goes to show how important it is to step outside one’s comfort zone, as this is a great album.
My biggest surprise is how easy ‘Suite for Piano and Electronics’ is to listen to and how it makes me feel an increased sense of awareness. Headphone music that wakes you up rather than making you drowsy!