After a 17-year-long hiatus, pianist, composer and spoken word artist Martin Graff has returned to making music. The multi-talented finalist for Best Classical Artist in the 2022 DC “Wammie Awards” who loved the instrument since childhood aptly titled his new album “Trips for Piano.” As he rediscovers this mode of liberation and joy, the listener enjoys the soundscape possible through the hands of but one man behind the ivories. Although the album doubles as the score for Graff’s long-running spoken word show, The Face Zone, it employs the audience to unlock their imagination and project their own narrative arc onto his classical arrangements
The album opens with “Prism,” a darling arrangement that conjures a bright color pallet in the mind of the listener. In a stark shift, “Into…” adds mystery to Graff’s collection. Soon after his right hand creeps around the higher keys, he indulges in some of the album’s most playful legato passages.
The music video for “Sativa,” the album’s new single, helps the listener join Graff on his trip. His arrangement boasts sprawling extended chords riddled with accidentals which intensify up-close nature shots. Legato runs nurture budding flowers and lush chords introduce a bright clouded sky before its rain befalls the flowers below. These natural cycles and changes to the seasons are appropriately scored with alternating sonic passages of dark and light.
Like the “Sativa” video, “Flowers Open” employs Graff’s nature motif, this time limited to the aural sense. What begins as a light stroll deceptively evolves into a journey more sophisticated and complete. As flowers blossom, so does his arrangement into a rich field.
The motif of mystery peaks its head once more on “After.” While the listener does not know what preceded it, it certainly wasn’t anything pleasant. Each note feels like an intimidating drop of rain splashing onto a murky window, with the person on the other side barely hanging on.
“Sonare,” the epic conclusion to “Trips for Piano,” is perhaps Graff’s most impressive composition. The nearly nine-minute epic begins as a melodic tickering in B minor, and explores various changes to both key and time signatures, tension swelling with each transfiguration.
Creativity and passion are extraordinary forces, ones that Graff conjures throughout “Trips for Piano.” While it is unclear what inspired each arrangement, it hardly matters. Graff materialized each score, but it is his listeners who will beckon each work’s imagery, narrative, and significance.