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CD Feature/ Fennesz: "Black Sea"

img  Tobias
Even though the artwork to his latest full-length might suggests so, Christian Fennesz’ creative well was never in danger of running dry. News items and pre-release reports referring to “Black Sea” as his first album in four years carelessly omitted that Fennesz has hardly been more active before in a solo career anxiously approximating its second decade. Simply, his output had seemed to centre around poignant, short offerings (either as digital files or on 7inch Vinyl) or symbiotic collaborations – the latter including musical handshakes with Ryuichi Sakomoto and Charles Matthews among others. Regardless of whether he was accompanying the Grand Organ in York Minster, exploring spatial specifics in various live situations or entering into a metaphysical dialogue with Sakomoto’s Piano, however, his main ambition has always been to find an answer to that all-deciding question: When does beauty become unbearable?

One could, of course, argue that the results of his quest have not changed all that much on “Black Sea”. Admittedly, when compared to its immediate predecessor “Venice”, the new material offers neither guest compositions for Guitar, nor vocals and his singularly stringent structures have been embedded into a sonambulant flow of drones and harmonies. But the much talked-about transition from instrumental songsmith to ambient master is more of a conceptual and aesthetic proposition void of any fundamental dogmas or marketing shticks. If Fennesz claims that “there are still traces of songs and song structures in ‘Black Sea’” then that is actually an understatement: Tracks like “Grey Scale” and “Vacuum” still rely on lyrical melodies, compactness of form and a disarming straight-to-the-heartness, while refusing to take more than four minutes to make a point.

And yet, this conscious penchant for the immediate and uncomplicated is never without ambition. The most remarkable feature about “Black Sea”, in fact, is how effectively it injects sensations of majesty, depth and capaciousness into its unpretentiously circumscribed compositions. The progressions of “Perfume for Winter” appear stretched-out and surreal in one moment and pure and crystaline in the other, while the gaping wormholes in the sleepy texture of “Glass Ceiling” efface all sense of time and space. What lies between two notes suddenly seems essential and loose motivic strands take on vital thematic meaning as main melodic development increasingly withdraws into the liquid layers underneath the sonic surface. It is the act of deliberately avoiding harmful concretion that allows the listener to come to highly personal conclusions.

It is interesting to note, meanwhile, that “Black Sea” is always at its most tangible when Fennesz calls in the support and creative input of friends: “The Colour of Three”, realised all the way back in 2004 with Australian composer and jack-of-many-trades Anthony Pateras, is a powerfully fuzzy ride on the crest of a distorted two-chord wave and “Glide” renews the acoustic liason with Rosy Parlane after ten years of silence. On the latter, yearning strings and a gentle bass hymnically ascend from the ashes of a dark, resonant industrial wasteland, transforming a suggestively sombre piece of sound art into a long, ardent emotional crescendo. Even though Fennesz has reduced the size of his cast of colleagues to an absolute minimum, these contributions are essential to the album as a whole, for they counterpoint the overwhelming sense of tranquility radiated by his solo work with a necessary degree of urgency. An exception to this rule is the opening title track, an atmospheric modular symphony comprising of several episodes connected by mood and breath, which sets high hopes for an eclectic listening experience.

These hopes are never disappointed. “Black Sea” is a colourful ride and a treasure chest for anyone who thought experimental releases mostly relied on punctuating the same nerve for much too long. Christian Fennesz emerges from it as a gifted story-teller excelling both in the short story and novel-department as well as an artist capable of finding connections between stylistically divergent works in a refreshingly “irrational” way. He doesn’t need exagerated layering and myriads of secretively tucked-away sound effects to come at intense results either, with tracks appearing invitingly transparent.

On the face of it, therefore, there is no great mystery at work here: Sometimes, as on closing single release “Saffron Revolution”, all he does is take a romantic chord motive, stretch its fabric until it turns into a mere suggestion and allow it to grow and explode into a supernova of harmony and bliss. It is right there, however, that something essentially simple turns into an articulate form of art and the unabashed beauty of his music, triumphant in a tender way, becomes almost unbearable.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Christian Fennesz
Homepage: Touch

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