Guitarist Kristaps Grasis has teamed up with flutist Liene Sējāne to record an album of contemporary chamber music, appropriately titled Modern Chamber Music. Classically, the term “chamber music” applies to works for smaller ensembles, so that it could be performed in a smaller “chamber.” Usually this refers to works like piano duets, string quartets and chamber choir pieces.
As a “modern” twist to this, Grasis and Sējāne, together with Wendel Biskup on bass and Mike Haarman on percussion, composed their own chamber music works and recorded them on this compact disc, released last year in Germany by ZYX Music.
Sējāne and Grasis have a long history together. Grasis, himself from Sweden and son of Latvian folk singer Austris Grasis, studied at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, both in Stockholm. On one of his first visits to Latvia in the 1980s, he met up with members of the Latvian rock group Pērkons, including keyboardist and principal composer Juris Kulakovs, and brothers Leons and Juris Sējāns. Grasis has released two albums, his debut Nangilima (1994) and Naktis/Nights (1996). He also collaborates with Latvian poet Juris Kronbergs on the album Vilks vienacis, which also features the One-Eye Wolf Band.
Liene Sējāne, originally from Latvia and the daughter of Pērkons guitarist Leons Sējāns, studied flute at the Latvian Academy of Music. Via Grasis’ collaborations with the members of Pērkons, she began working together with him and they released their first album, Parallels, in 2004. The album was published by Musica Baltica in Latvia and featured works by Béla Bartók, Astor Piazzolla and original material by Grasis.
The CD begins with the Sējāne-composed “Elve’s Song”, an almost Renaissance-like work, particularly with her flute work. In fact, it almost seems that the apostrophe is in the wrong place—and maybe it was meant to be “Elves’ Song”—since the work would fit quite nicely in any of the Lord of the Rings films. Or perhaps the song simply is about someone named Elve.
Following on that is the more modern “Fantasie: The Wolf and the Garden” by Grasis, with a more jazz-like influence and a more modern sound to it. “Night Turns to Day,” also by Grasis, features him on classical guitar in the introduction, joined later by the flute of Sējāne. The track presents the sounds of daybreak, as well as its calmness and periodic tension (perhaps from birds who are just beginning to awake).
The CD also features “The Traveller’s Suite”, a work by Grasis made up of the movements “The City,” “Promenade,” “At the Airport,” “Trainride” and “By the Sea.” “The City” features a minor key melody, performed by Sējāne, slightly reminding the listener of English folk songs. “Trainride” is also far more soothing than an actual train ride usually is, but otherwise the movement is a very tender work.
The packaging of the CD is very minimal, with no biographical information or any additional information about the works. However, one can visit the artists’ Web site for further information. Unfortunately, neither the packaging nor the Web site offer any further information on the works on the CD. It would have been interesting to read about what inspired the works and what the intended meaning is, but the listeners are left to guess about what the artists’ intentions were (which, perhaps, was the idea all along).
To give the CD the simple title of Modern Chamber Music is very ambitious, almost implying that this could be a new standard against which further chamber music works are judged against. The musicians are clearly talented and the CD is pleasant enough to listen to and well produced, but perhaps it still lacks something that would make it stand out among other such releases of modern instrumental works. Though certainly no expert on classical music myself, I probably would not call this “chamber music,” more simply instrumental music. More often than not, it reminds me of the progressive rock of the 1960s or 1970s, with the flute in particular recalling Jethro Tull (and maybe even early King Crimson). The music is all very soothing and probably would fit very well on a “smooth jazz” radio station. Certainly the guitar and flute combination is one that is rarely heard, so that itself is one reason the talented duo of Grasis and Sējāne is worth keeping an eye on.
Modern Chamber Music
Sējāne & Grasis
ZYX Music, 2008
On the Web
The artists’ page on the Latvian social network draugiem.lv. LV
The official Web site for the musical project. EN
Where to buy
Purchase Modern Chamber Music from Amazon.com.
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