Photo: Jen Squires
Photo: Jen Squires

R Grunwald: Determination Of The Crossing

R Grunwald - Determination Of The Crossing ( Common Noise/Outside Music)  As Robbie Grunwald, this masterful pianist is an in-demand session player, a regular fixture in the bands of Jill Barber and Donovan Woods, and a composer for film and TV shows.

He releases a debut solo piano album, Oma, on March 6, and this is the third track from that to come out.

In a press release, Grunwald describes it as “cyclical, frenetic, and contemplative. This piece is my musical interpretation of the act of escape.” The track comes complete with a video from animator Jacob Mittermaier-Zubeck.

The composition begins with briskly repetitive motifs, then, two minutes in, slows down to a gently meditative state, then speeds up again to a conclusion. The influence of minimalist masters Philip Glass and Steve Reich is audible here.

The album is named for his 96-year-old grandmother (Oma —  the German word for ‘grandmother’), who encouraged him to pursue piano as a boy.

“She loved: Chopin, Liszt, Satie, a lot of late classical and early Romantic composers,” he says. “That music is really deep inside of me because of her.” Decades later, in January 2017, Grunwald found himself at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts, He was there to compose music for solo piano, inspired by ambient music he’d been making with friends, and the experience proved crucial.

Grunwald was also inspired by a wave of solo piano music in recent years, including favourites of his like Nils Frahm, Chilly Gonzales, and Max Richter. “I would never have considered doing this project five years ago,” he says. “Who’s going to listen to solo piano? Especially the kind of music I write, which is very slow and cerebral and takes a lot of attention.”

He hopes to stand apart from the swelling crowd in the genre, however.  “When I look under the category ‘solo piano’ on streaming services, I go through the list, and 90% of it sounds exactly the same: arpeggios, not very melodic. What’s different about my music is that it’s intensely focused on melody. It’s not pop music, but it has something to latch on to. I’m a session guy, so the one thing I know more than anything is that melody is king, and you shouldn’t get in the way of that.”

 Of note: The grand piano on which the album was recorded now sits at Toronto studio Union Sound Company, but for years was located at the city’s legendary Montreal Bistro, where t had been played by the likes of Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall played at some point. “People know this piano; it’s famous,” says Grunwald. “There was actually an album made where they got all the top Canadian jazz pianists of the ’90s to perform on it as a tribute to the instrument itself.”

Grunwald begins a Canadian tour on March 11 in Saskatoon, closing out at Heliconian Hall in Toronto, April 2. Dates here

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Publicity: Ken Beattie, Killbeat

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