The title of Lubomyr Melnyk’s latest album, Fallen Trees, is yet another sign he’s been making throughout his career of the confluence of music and nature. On a long train ride through Europe, Melnyk observed a forest with several trees that had recently fallen. The image brought to mind both sorrow and hope. “They were glorious,” he says. “Even though they’d been killed, they weren’t dead.”
As is the case with Melnyk’s music, Fallen Trees is the sound of sorrow and hope. His style of piano playing, often referred to as “continuous music” for the way he uses the sustain pedal to create an endless river of notes, is both uncommonly beautiful and tinged with tension and sadness. While it may at times give off a “new age” air, there’s an edge to the compositions and performances that’s more in tune with, say, improvisational jazz.
While Fallen Trees is primarily a work of solo piano, Melnyk – born 70 years ago in the Ukraine before relocating to Canada as a young boy – has some help from fellow artists on the Erased Tapes roster. Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit shines on the opening track, “Requiem for a Fallen Tree”, her angelic voice floating over Melnyk’s cascading piano notes. But the following track, “Son of Parasol”, is all Melnyk, and his style on that song brings to mind the long-form solo improvisations Keith Jarrett mastered on albums like The Koln Concert and La Scala. While the composition seems to operate as one self-contained piece, it transforms several times throughout its seven-and-a-half minutes, only staying with one motif long enough to make its mark before moving on to other territory.
Speaking of other territory, the utterly gorgeous “Barcarolle” treads more conventional ground, as it recalls more classical and traditional folk styles (the song itself is named after a style of folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers). Throughout the piece, Melnyk caresses and cajoles the melody, giving the listener a slightly milder version of the “continuous music” style, but no less powerful.
The primary focus of Fallen Trees, however, is its five-part self-titled section, subtitled – in order – “Preamble”, “Existence”, “Apparition”, “They Are Down”, and “Not Forgotten”. Taking obvious cues from minimalists like Terry Riley (whose seminal “In C” was immensely influential to young Melnyk), as well as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, Melnyk crafts an epic love letter to nature, with the unflinching stream of notes representing a forest’s near-endless clusters of trees. In “Apparition”, an ethereal chorus of voices allows Melnyk’s piano to take a backseat to a new sonic element, and the addition of cello by Anne Muller (another Erased Tapes artist) is yet another stunning revelation.
As the final section, “Not Forgotten”, brings the album to a close, it begins with low-register dissonance but eventually morphs into a more lyrical series of notes before slowing down to an elegant, peaceful close. With Fallen Trees, Lubomyr Melnyk seems to acknowledge the chaos that exists everywhere, even in nature, but also understands and embraces its beauty. In this regard, his latest offering is a gorgeous tribute.