Brett’s Sound Picks: Rachel Grimes’ “Book Of Leaves”

If, as the composer Steve Reich once said in the liner notes for his Desert Music, the evolution of tonality can be imagined as a raft bearing a flickering flame floating slowly downriver towards unknown waters, then the modern composer’s use of harmony is always worth thinking through. Pay attention to the colors and shades of light elicited in the tone combinations of say, Debussy, Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Reich, and Arvo Pärt  (to name just a few bright lights among my list of favorites) and it’s as if you’re hearing that floating raft of flickering tonality sailing out to uncharted waters, bobbing on the currents the those composing imaginations.

Rachel Grimes’ beautiful piano music strikes me as doing compelling harmonic things too, building itself up and down through simple chord cluster dissonances that shift and evolve and hold their tensions, one small interval at a time. I like all of the pieces on her recording Book Of Leaves, but here are two especially moving ones:

“Mossgrove” plays swiftly pulsating chords in a slow descent from high registers to low ones, texture thickening while fading in volume like dying light, just in time for a harmonic resolution that brings the music to a close. (The version below has strings added–not quite the same version I heard on Book Of Leaves.)

“Bed Of Moss” is a slow climb, playing quarter and half note arpeggiating chords, root bass in the left hand, colors in the falling right, both hands moving inwards until they meet and the middle and the music has spoken. (This video also introduced me to the stunning visuals of Kurtis Hough.)

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