Joseph Branciforte’s record label, greyfade, is dedicated to recordings that embrace processed-based compositions, which throughout four releases since 2019, have included everything from string quartets using just intonation to electronic music that implements prime numbers in the compositional process. Now, with its fifth release, greyfade introduces pianist/composer Phillip Golub’s solo debut, Filters, perhaps the most accessible release of the bunch.
Branciforte’s vision for greyfade embraces concepts that require deep listening to grasp and appreciate the music fully. While that’s undoubtedly true for Filters, how the idea is executed this time results in a more organic overall sound. The fact that it’s all performed on a grand piano has a lot to do with that. The four tracks all run around eight to nine minutes in length and are named similarly: “Loop 1”, “Loop 3”, “Loop 4”, and “Loop 5” (“Loop 2” is a bonus track available only digitally through grey fades Bandcamp). Golub has essentially composed loops in each song with manual implementation of the same notes, over and over, as a sort of Steve Reichian minimalist exercise.
What makes the implementation of Filters different from many of the mathematical exercises of previous greyfade releases isn’t necessarily that it’s acoustic instrumentation – Christopher Otto’s rag’sma used a string quartet, after all – but that Golub felt freer to execute the passages with a more loose set of dynamics. The phrasing shifts and tempo vary slightly throughout the course of each loop. As explained in the liner notes: “There are also the inevitable, yet tangible, differences in musical surface and micro-acoustic detail that emerge over time, given the physical fact that a pianist interacting with a mechanical instrument is all but incapable of exact repetition.”
Even though each “loop” plays the same series of notes over and over, the overarching mood of the music recalls minimalist jazz improvisation. You could easily picture Brad Mehldau or Keith Jarrett attempting this type of project. The organic feel of piano keys – as opposed to computerized buttons and knobs – creates a warmer, more inviting atmosphere. There are moments, particularly the quieter ones, that sound unlike Erik Satie’s more earthy, Zen-like piano compositions.
Golub, who began playing piano at age five and composing in his early teens, cites his experience as a performer as the basis of reducing his compositional material down to its minimum. Creating his first loop as an exercise back in 2018, he explains on the Filters Bandcamp page that “I thought at first that what I had written would be the material for further composition, that I would elaborate the material and make it the basis of more music. But the more I played what I had written, the more I realized: wait, no, this is the piece. Just playing this over and over is the music.”
While more of a meditative, peaceful listening experience than some of the heavier process-based projects on the greyfade roster, Filters is a profound concept that still benefits from a concentrated listening environment. But approached as a bit of neo-classical minimalist jazz – which isn’t far off the mark – Filters is a triumphant solo debut from Phillip Golub and another fascinating entry in greyfade’s catalog.