River Without Banks is named after a chapter in musicologist Grenrikh Orlov’s “Tree Of Music” where Orlov draws connections between Western and Eastern traditions of using chant and raga forms to ‘eliminate the division between the physical and the spiritual’. Conceptually it’s a fluid and open-minded idea that eschews more traditional compositional form.
Musically, Leo Svirsky interprets this principle using a piano, first and foremost, and predominantly solo. Long rolling chord work and super-sustained single chords twinkle and play in a manner that gives us work that feels classical in timbre, but more mesmeric and sometimes even drone-like in form. When it lets up slightly, particularly in the title track, it falls back into more familiar and romantic-sounding themes; on “Trembling Instants” sounding somewhat glib at first. Some strong and deliberate stereo separation, pushing a piano across your aural field, adds to the sense of immersion.
Ten minutes in, other elements are introduced. The piano still remains at the centre but we are also given electronics, strings and trumpet- generally long notes, drawing lines of tension or support to compliment the musical core. In “Rain, Rivers, Forest, Corn, Wind, Sand” it forges an unusual hybrid of almost folksy acoustic drone with more contemporary-sound synthetic touches.
“Strange Lands And People” is the most sombre point, a ten minute piano ballad that is also perhaps the album’s most traditional point as well, and coupled with final piece “Fanfare (after Jeromos Kamphuis)”, a sparser collection of tip-toeing single chords, the album wraps up firmly ensconced in a sense of musical tradition.
It’s a piano-driven album that somehow fails to sing. In trying to find the fluidity and commonality among musical ideas old and new, it has landed in a kind of mediocre middle ground, neither truly one thing or another. It is perhaps held back by self-indulgent piano time where some of the more layered and collaborative sections would have been more interesting to hear extended or explored further. It’s pleasant enough though.