American-born, Paris-based pianist Richard Sears isn’t happy with simply creating arresting jazz and classical-inspired melodies. For him, processed-based music can also yield stunning and satisfying results. Collaboration also plays a hand in the process, as is the case with his fantastic new album, Appear to Fade.
Sears performed a series of compositions and improvisations on solo piano over a period, recorded and processed by producer Ari Chersky. Over several months, the piano recordings were edited down by Sears and Chersky using magnetic tape loops and analog production tools. This resulted in collages and soundscapes, which gives Appear to Fade its unique sound.
The music is often shrouded in reverb, delay, and dissonance, with the occasional emanating sounds of things that are nothing like a piano. On the opening track, “Tracing Time”, a two-note bass line is a sober constant throughout, adding to the modern ambience and giving the song a gentle propulsion. “Oceans”, on the other hand, is deeply somber and mysterious, but even a slow, fluid, rumbling bass line comes up from the surface towards the end. The appearance of low end is also applied to “Dolorous Interlude”, which appears as a frantic, almost dance-like component in the tense middle period of that track.
There is nostalgia in the compositional process as well. “Manresa”, named after a beach on the Santa Cruz, California coastline where Sears grew up, harbors a bit of childlike innocence in the modal piano harmonies, sounding almost like a dream, as interwoven piano figures peek out under the gauze of distorted tape loops. “Tulev” takes this sonic architecture a step further, as the haunting, cavernous-sounding piano chords are accompanied by tape noise that sounds like insistent rainfall (or maybe it’s actual rain?). This confluence of studio experimentation and the gentle pull of nature is a unique, irresistible stylistic concept.
On “Urchin”, the piano almost seems to have nowhere to hide, as high, shrill piano notes bounce off each other with nothing to hold on to save the suspended bits of noise and distortion. It’s one of the most unsettling and experimental tracks on Appear to Fade, offered as a generous example of how far Sears and Chersky are willing to stretch this unusual and adventurous way of making music.
But with all the fascinating sounds from tape loop manipulation, Sears concludes Appear to Fade with a gorgeous, unadorned solo piano piece. “What I Meant to Say Was” is an unadorned piano improvisation on the Una Corda, giving the instrument a muted or muffled effect. That level of sound trickery – along with some quiet background rain – seems positively quaint when compared to the previous songs. It’s an indescribably beautiful way to end Appear to Fade, a sublime bit of Debussy-inspired grace in a sea of admittedly spellbinding experimental wizardry. Richard Sears and Ari Chersky have made an album that may inspire copycats, but few, if any, will likely do it at this level.