Katrina Krimsky: 1980 Album Review

Katrina Krimsky unleashes a vibrant spectrum of colors from just a few looping melodies. The pianist’s compositions and improvisations are built from small, repeated phrases, creating dreamy patterns in their interweaving. Her light, flowing music draws on her experiences performing in eclectic corners of the 20th century avant-garde, particularly playing works by electronic pioneers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luc Ferrari and minimalist pioneers Terry Riley and La Monte Young. When she turned to composition in the 1980s, her pieces naturally emerged as a hybrid of contemporary styles, finding sublime depth in every pattern she dreamed of. 1980a solo piano recording unearthed from a June 1980 concert in Woodstock, New York, features the effervescent oscillations that would become Krimsky’s signature, showing the artist as she began to solidify her compositional voice.

Krimsky performed the music of 1980 while visiting Woodstock’s Creative Music Studio, which at the time was a hotbed for musical exploration. The evening marked a turning point in his musical practice: it was an early performance of material he composed and improvised, rather than material composed by others that he later performed. She also provided insight into the lattice compositions she has written throughout his career. Across three tracks, Krimsky presents three different ways to create a trance out of undulating melodies, making music similar to the minimalist counterpoints of himself and Keith Jarrett alike. With each return, his motifs take on a different mood: what once felt joyous can turn sinister, showing how a change in perspective can affect a sequence of notes, not unlike meditation. In the liner notes to the release, Krimsky describes his love of patterns as a “quest,” a means of finding resonance. As his ostinati get closer, he writes: “It sets me free, another dimension happens.”

In the first few seconds of the 42-minute “Soundscape,” Krimsky presents an undulating motif that repeats as other shifting tones swirl around it. Though his smooth style often feels pastoral, there’s a touch of tension here fueled by the low, rumbling notes of the music; they rattle like a train arriving late at the station, building tension with each repetition and each trill. Krimsky examines his subjects from all angles; Gradually, a higher-pitched, brighter-toned melody emerges from the previous motif, presenting a new version of what we’ve already heard. And while much of his music ends up feeling ecstatic, it also touches on darker emotions, which make the bright spots feel even sunnier. He pauses, stretches out the notes, lets them sit for a while and reflect. In a few moments of 1980, its oscillations even disappear, revealing a faraway, dissonant sound. It’s brief, its melodies returning, louder, brighter, in a matter of minutes, but its absence underscores how it explores every color and texture.

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Documenting the beginning of her journey as a composer, 1980 presents Krimsky’s work in its most simplified and exploratory form as he works through the ideas that would later define his voice. In some cases, the various parts in 1980 he would even return later in his career. “Stella Malu,” the album’s upbeat finale, returned in a more melancholic form in 1982. stella malu; on this version, Krimsky slows down his melodies, transforming their bouncy rhythms into pensive, meandering swaths of sound. It’s another example of the staying power of his vivid approach: though it’s just a few repeated notes, Krimsky finds new angles within them, sparking different harmonies and moods. Each time, he shows us that there is more to say.

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Katrina Krimsky: 1980

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