- A lost album from 2009 highlights the pianist's gift for emotion and technical prowess.
- There's hardly a better way to put an artist's development into perspective than to hear unreleased work from the start of their career. German pianist Nils Frahm has spent the last decade innovating, leaving his comfort zones and building new ones elsewhere. Ambient, classical, jazz, choral, electronic—you name it. At times his electronic work has been immersive enough to make you forget how talented of a pianist he is. In 2015, the composer created Piano Day. Taking place on the 88th day of every year, it celebrates the "king of musical instruments"— the piano. (If you had told me there wasn't already a "Piano Day" prior to 2015, I wouldn't have believed you, but hey.) To celebrate Piano Day 2021, Frahm has released a surprise album, originally recorded in 2009 in Austria. This was meant to be the first album he released on Erased Tapes, but he tucked it away in the vault and opted to release Felt instead.
Frahm says that the compositions on Graz "sound like a much younger version of myself, and a lot of the musical expressions from that time would be impossible for me to replicate today." These pieces have hints of improvisation to them, the volatile playing conveying a young Frahm uncertain about what the future held. (Or at least that's how it sounds now.) But his meticulous attention to acoustics is clear from the moment you press play. The sound is three-dimensional, almost as if Frahm and his piano are floating around your head.
"Because This Must Be" skips and jolts to the finish line. It's a crescendo of energy with repeated phrases that are played with more determination each time. There's an inimitable hunger to these piano pieces, the sounds of someone who didn't simply want to compose them, but needed to. Longer songs like "Kurzum" are emotional, the kind of journeys that leave you deep in introspective thought about who you are and who you're becoming. Compared to Frahm's more maximalist work, it's astonishing how much raw feeling he's able to recreate here with such minimal instrumentation. "Crossings" is luminous and understated, like street lights being reflected on the skin of a puddle. It sounds like growing confidence, or old hopes finally being realised.
Pianists are fortunate that their work will almost never sound stale or dated, and songs like "Hammer" embody the immortality of Frahm's compositions. He's been performing it live for a decade and a more stripped back version was released on his 2013 live album, Spaces. On Graz, "Hammer" holds even more emotional weight, thanks to Peter Broderick's cascading vocals.
These songs aren't intended as acts of experimentation or innovation—rather, they feel like a deep dive into the soul. The more dramatic moments on Graz conjure an image of Frahm, frantic and hunched over his piano like a mad scientist. It's captivating enough to make you wonder why he didn't release it back in 2009, but on the other hand, it's raw enough to make you feel like you're intruding on something deeply personal by listening to it.
Frahm claims these are "sounds that have no relation to anything we can measure," and that's true for the most part. Graz is one of those rare musical snapshots that's vivid enough to capture the intangibles of the human condition, all without uttering a single word. He's the man behind the day that celebrates the piano as "king of the musical instruments," but on Graz, Frahm is king, and the piano is his throne.
02. O I End
03. Because This Must Be
05. And Om
08. About Coming and Leaving
09. Went Missing