Berlin iconically represents the concepts of borders and breaking through them. On November 9 of this year, the city celebrates the 30 year anniversary of the re-unification: the day the Berlin Wall fell, bringing together families and cultures who had been militantly separated for 28 years.
Electronic Berlin-based piano, bass and drums trio Grey Paris exemplify the attitude that borders should be crossed, both past and future should be embraced, and that art should be pursued through the damp and dark with focused precision.
Though their name could be seen as ironic, given that they hail from Germany’s perhaps most well-known city, Grey Paris boast an international, moody appeal in grave seriousness. They evoke a gaunt aire with the bleak and dramatic tone of their music, but a brilliant, flickering pulse keeps the band’s newest full length Medea pumping with the energy of Berlin’s underground club scene. Released today, the album is both a direct homage to the ancient Greek myth of the same name and a sonic narrative all its own.
The title track “Medea” exemplifies this Berlin crossover: a cinematic checkpoint between the city’s rich piano jazz and classical history and the relentless drive of its legendary electronic music scene. Keyboardist Yiorgos Parisis’s polyrhythmic classical arpeggios cycle atop Radiohead-esque blips and chopped-up beats, courtesy of drummer Arian Stechert.
Each member of the trio embodies this mix of traditional methods and new technology, playing both acoustic and electronic versions of their instruments. It’s worth noting that Stechert is a piano maker, originally hired by Parisis to repair an un-earthed piano. That meeting led to co-composition and the ensuing band, rounded out by bassist Mark Beumer.
The odd meter 5/8 gallop of “The Gynoecium” will excite fans of progressive, melodic piano jazz who may recognize Beumer from his collaboration with jazz/rock guitarist Greg Tuohey in the Steve Waitt Band and more. Tuohey also performs with notable American Jazz pianist Aaron Parks, a fitting parallel to the musical concepts his camrades put on display throughout Medea.
“Human Hack” sees Parisis playing the acoustic piano with a mechanical cadence, approaching the feel of electronic music directly from the most classical of instruments. We hear symphonic strings in this tune as well, a further homage to the sensitive harmonic textures of the old ways, though this is arguably the most prog-rock track in the collection.
The quiet snow-fall of “Annovation” employs percussive samples and ambience at the outset, bringing a richness to this, the most down-tempo moment on Medea. Each track on the album unfolds over time like a trance record, with “Annovation” evolving over nearly eight minutes to a straight-up EDM climax.
As those who know Berlin well, all walls have come down. In the case of Grey Paris, the genre separation between classical and electronic no longer exists either. Just as the current-day outline of the Berlin Wall itself, we can freely weave through the memory of these boundaries.
Grey Paris takes us on a border-crossing wander on Medea, channeling the sounds of the established past through the fiber optic feel of the future.