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Lisa Ullen: Piano Works

Karl Ackermann By

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Lisa Ullén is best known for her work with Swiss bassist Nina de Heney, including Carve (2009), Look Right (2013)—both on LJ Records—and Quarrtsiluni (Lamour Records, 2016). Ullén was born in South Korea but raised in Sweden and graduated from the Royal Musical Academy in Stockholm where she studied classical piano. With well over a dozen recordings as a leader/co-leader, Ullén has long been an uncompromisingly dedicated artist whose penchant for newly invented, modern creative music has set her apart as a composer, improviser and player.

Ullén's ambitious solo project Piano Works is a three-disc set of improvised pieces that range from under one minute, to the occasional double-digit length (one per disc). A previous solo collection, Catachresis (Nuscope Recordings , 2011) was often a more dense, dark outing in comparison to much of the content on Piano Works. Here, Ullén plays acoustic and prepared piano, the latter dominating the final disc, and the approach is minimal throughout. Listen to the beautifully unfolding "Needle" or the delicate "Treble and Bass" and you will hear discovery-driven ideas playing out in real time, seemingly simple ideas translated as structures that are surprisingly complex. Even "Specter" on Disc 1, and "Yesterdays" on Disc 2—both thirteen minutes in length—are laced with such frequent silences and sonic nuances that they become austere episodes in suite form.

Ullén utilizes ethereal reverberation of strings being slapped, plucked or strummed from inside the piano, mixing them with gorgeous melodies that pass in listening, having drawn us in long enough to imprint themselves. A clandestine atmosphere permeates the collection, many of the pieces being brief enough to feel like half-explained solutions to complex algorithms. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable intelligence that Ullén brings to Piano Works, and a raw energy that even cuts through the moments of apparent motionlessness. It is a collection that is well worth savoring over time.

Track Listing: CD1: link; up north; wood; needle; streets; uphill; the gap one; specter; step; layer; CD2: the gap two; treble and bass; the place; writhe; yesterdays; glow; apparition; chair one; chair two; psalm; CD3: hollow part 1; hollow part 2; hollow part 3; hollow part 4; hollow part 5; hollow part 6.

Personnel: Lisa Ullén: piano, prepared piano.

Title: Piano Works | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Disorder

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