Nils Frahm – Spaces

Somewhere down the line we forgot how much fun the thrill of improvisation could truly be and accepted the laissez faire attitude toward keeping live performances as close to the original tones as possible. Thankfully Nils Frahm’s new album Spaces, a two-year journey compiling unorthodox performance styles and unique blend of classical and electronica reminds us not only how exhilarating the piano solo can potentially be but also the possibilities yet unheard. Straight to the point, Spaces is as real of an adrenaline-rush a recorded performance set can possibly get.

Known for his atmospheric touches and surreal ability to capture echoing, cathedral-filling notes while still narrowing in on the most minute, needle-dropping details, Frahm has built a reputation for being one of the premiere producers/performers in the contemporary classical space. Spaces solidifies Frahm’s crafty skills on the keys outside the studio and more importantly definitively singles him out as one of the best and most creative improvisers out there today. Spaces borders the line between various genres, but at its core focuses on the beauty of improvised piano motifs that Frahm has mastered so well. Spaces offers a relentless back and forth between emotional highs and lows, and never once is there a case of monotonous composing.

There are various moments on the record where listeners are chasing glorifying climaxes to the point of near exhaustion (“Says” “Said and Done”, “Hammers”) and others where it almost seems like an endless inhale of anticipation (“Went Missing,” “Familiar”, “Ross’s Harmonium”). By design, Spaces is a completely “no-rest” program with an erratic, ever-changing pace. The variety of the setlist Spaces provides ranges the gamut from subtle piano solos of serenity to neo-utopian hard-pressing of keys that are simply mind-altering.  One only needs to listen to the eighth track mix “For-Peter-Toliet Brushes-More” to understand how Frahm can make such alien-sounding blends be so alluring and captivating.

The diverseness of the selections is imaginative and at times unworldly for even the most open-minded contemporary listeners. Frahm presents futuristic-sounding motifs as modern-day guides for a new generation of improvisation, thoroughly rich and gripping yet minimalistic in nature. Frahm mixes an assortment of instruments to create a bigger-than-one-man experience but with tightly controlled grips as to not create a jambalaya of noise. And yet throughout all of this controlled chaos, Frahm finds way to make his works melodic and memorable. Especially of note are his poignant selections “Over There It’s Raining” and the tenth track mix “Unter-Tristana-Ambre” where it has never felt so good to feel somber. In album full of gems, one particular standout track that sets the bar for improvisation is the aptly titled piece “Improvisation For Coughs and A Cell Phone,” a stirring yet subtle number that takes into account the realities of a performance space – audience members coughing, items dropping, clothes rustling and of course a cell phone ringing. Stiff jazz improvisers as Keith Jarrett might want to take a cue from the patience and creativity current contemporaries as Frahm has learned to concoct.

The only drawback to Spaces (if you’d even consider this a drawback) is that you’d have to believe these were the penultimate recordings of these motifs and as Frahm’s unique show-to-show performance style goes, this is an experience that will never ever truly be replicated again. As flabbergasted and creatively liberating of a ride Spaces is, this is a visionary experience meant to be frozen in time and cherished for all its worth.
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