The productive/prolific period continues for German composer/pianist Nils Frahm with Spaces a live album as part-reinvention/part-reminder and (all?) consolidation. With the title indicating the spaces he fills (ie: the places he plays) and the space/s around the music, inside the music, the breathing spaces created by and for the music, Frahm is able toward jazz and offer only a hint and never a cliché, just as often he’s tracing around the spaces once left by Mike Oldfield and Jean Michel Jarre (Says) and finding only new ground to cover. When coursing through concert piano movements to arrive at prepared upright treatments, when adding soft electronic furnishings and percussive synth lines Frahm gives it his all. And when (his) all is Said And Done (one of the very finest pieces here, though it is better to understand Spaces as a whole rather than coming from fragments) it’s the sound of Helios reimagining Bill Evans’ Conversations With Myself. It’s Frahm playing out how he might imagine the sound of Rhian Sheehan and Max Richter duetting at keyboards.
That Spaces is some new version of The Koln Concert for fans of The Necks and Richter and Nicolas Jaar is no huge stretch to imagine or understand. That it works as some new version of The Koln Concert for fans of The Koln Concert (as well) is a hint at the depth on offer. The murmurings of the piano framed by a just-so hue; Went Missing and Over There, It’s Raining so beautifully – perfectly – filmic. Elsewhere (with Hammers) it’s Chris Abrahams working through a Michael Nyman score, or the medley of pieces Unter/Tristana/Ambre gives the feeling of Jaar talking down Brad Mehldau, making sure the softly-softly approach is as ever-present as Keith Jarrett’s intensity.
Speaking of Jarrett, his wee tirades against a coughing audience member and cell phones are celebrated, sympathised with and/or mocked by Frahm’s piece An Improvisation For Coughs And A Cell Phone – this pianist open to the chaos of the moment, so aware that when the tape is rolling it will define the piece and the space around it, capturing all.
The seventeen-minute medley For/Peter/Toilet Brushes/More moves through Jarre-esque moments to arrive at how Jarrett might have performed the Exorcist score and then on to Nyman playing Jarre straight. That Frahm is able to bring to mind these players and pieces without the listener ever losing focus on who they are – actually – listening to is because he knows how (and when) to disappear into the spaces, he knows the trick is to be equally as good at hiding and at peeking back out. That he can keep all of these sounds in his head, instantly able to access any/all of them is amazing. That he can do it always with the sweep of beauty and grace, never abrasive, is testament to his virtuosity.
Spaces is frequently dazzling, but always in this heart-stoppingly beautiful way, never in a too much/more-is-more fashion, always with Frahm steering the ship, his guiding hand/s. It’s a list that grows longer by the day, but this is one of the best albums of 2013 – it’s perhaps even more remarkable to think of it as the very best thing Frahm has offered the world (so far).