Carlos Cipa‘s beautiful new album Retronyms reminds me of this CD I’ve had in my collection for years, one simply called Music for Relaxation, Meditation and Concentration. I don’t know how long I’ve had this CD, where I found it or why I decided to buy it. It looks like a generic sampler, something that’s played during an hour of massage therapy, but it contains music from Popol Vuh, John Lurie, Maurice Jarre and Jurgen Kneiper. It’s an incredible CD, full of quiet and dense music that’s also deep and intellectually rewarding.
This Carlos Cipa album is rewarding in exactly the same way. The sounds are quiet, slightly muffled and soothing, based on repetitive phrases from Cipa’s piano. It’s beautiful music every step of the way, but it eventually gets into your head and starts to open new doors of discovery. You soon realize that these compositions are more than just pretty. Layers of sound are slowly built up, which at first sounds like music from any number of electronica genres, but then you realize that this is an ensemble piece. Carlos Cipa, who is based in Munich, calls Retronyms a composition for “Alternative Ensemble.” Cipa often performs his compositions live, with a large number of people on stage.
Carlos Cipa performs many of the instruments himself–upright piano, grand piano, celeste, marimba, harmonium, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hohner guitaret, synthesizers and various electronics. The rest of the ensemble is large and varied–electric and acoustic guitars, trumpet, clarinet, strings and more–but their presence doesn’t enlarge the scope of the music as much as it blends it all together into one sound, a fascinating whole. In the quiet phases, dominated by Cipa’s keyboards, Retronyms sounds like Norwegian composer/pianist Lars Jakob Rudjord, one of my current favorites. It’s haunting but it’s also gorgeous. When the strings kicks in, augmented by the plaintive voices of the brass and woodwinds, I’m reminded of composer Michael Nyman and his minimalist approach to complicated arrangements.
Credit for discovering this Carlos Cipa LP must go to WildKat PR, a London-based publicity firm that popped up out of nowhere and starting sending me fantastic material. They’re responsible for that wonderful Daniel Elms‘ Islandia LP I reviewed a few months ago. I feel as if the knowledgeable staff at WildKat knows my taste in contemporary composers, and they have a huge roster of musicians who represent a fascinating new musical approach in Europe, one of peace and calm. Carlos Cipa has a true vision of presenting a sound that “invites the listener to explore this new world of piano, brass, woodwind and electric guitar” and “not wanting to influence the audience to any specific emotion.”
Perhaps that’s why Retronyms has become my new reference for relaxation, meditation and concentration. It gives you the space to think, to let your mind wander off in several intriguing directions at once.