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Music is full of stories of artists emerging from the wilderness or being discovered after years of obscurity. Such talk is particularly relevant when discussing 67-year-old Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk. He’s been making music since the 1970s and, while he may still be some way off being a recognised name, with the help of neo-classical label Erased Tapes he is gradually finding a wider audience.
Melnyk has led a relatively peripatetic existence over the years, being born in Ukraine living variously in Canada, Sweden and Germany. In a roundabout way, his history is testimony to his devotion to the piano and the belief in a simpler way of life, giving the impression that, as long as he has access to this humble yet endlessly giving of instruments, considerations such as where one resides occupy a somewhat subsidiary role.
Two of the most repeated lines about Melnyk concern his style of “continuous music” that he has developed over the last four decades (to little reception or acknowledgement) and the oft-forwarded but somewhat unrepresentative and unhelpful claim that he is the world’s fastest pianist (for instance that he is able to average 14 notes per second over the course of an hour of playing).
Out of these two points it is the former that makes more sense in the context of the music he’s released over the last two years (Rivers And Streams is the second full album released by Erased Tapes, after 2013’s Corollaries). Listeners coming to his music for the first time should not expect to be blitzed by a flurry of inaccessible notes but rather presented with a skilfully considered and beautifully purposeful demonstration of the ability of piano music to beguile and enchant.
This is present immediately on opening track Parasol. There’s no sense of build up as we’re plunged straight into the lush, radiant piano cycles that define the album. The Pool Of Memories, recorded live in London, sees him gravitate more towards his instrument’s lower reaches, filled accordingly with slightly darker colours. Trademark ecstasies soon take flight however, engulfing and inundating. The super condensed patterns and intimacies of Sunshimmers meanwhile are smaller in scale but are no less effective, whilst also recalling the music of Hauschka.
Ripples In A Water Scene takes a further step back, more moderate and painterly, and is the album’s most direct reference to its inspiration, namely natural occurrences of water. There’s also a more appreciable lightness of touch and greater hints towards lyricism. The album closes with a two-part exercise in musical topography, specifically concerning the Amazon river. The Amazon: The Highlands sees piano fall like rainfall, all clustered distribution and dancing notes as Korean musician Hyelim Kim adds flute to further evoke the sounds of the natural world, while The Amazon: The Lowlands’ arpeggios are interspersed amongst grander, columnated notes, perfectly capturing the tributary movement, flow and majesty of the river. This is music that has gloriously outgrown its unfamiliar origins and deserves to be embraced wholeheartedly.