Stripped back, just a man and his piano is what you get on Tom Blankenberg’s debut lp (and debut for the Less Records label of which he is one of the partners) “Artemus”. If Blankenberg wanted to make an album unadorned and pure, then he has succeeded with his first release.
“Atermus” is the debut album of Dusseldorf composer, producer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg. 13 minimal solo piano tracks in an undefined mixture of jazz, classical and avant-garde, score and song are creating a Neo Film-Noir soundtrack with subtle, melancholic melodies rising over dense and tensioned harmonies. With his album, an amalgamation of decades as being a musician, composer and sound designer, but first of all a music lover, Tom Blankenberg’s approach of the new, popular Neo Classical genre that more often takes place outside of the concert hall, is very genuine – no effects, no loops and no electronics. Pure piano and honest emotions – intimate, delicate, quiet and deep. A rest for 21st Century Minds.”
The thing that becomes apparent to me and I hope I am not insulting Tom when I say this, this album has a feeling of late night, almost jazzy club pianist from a time in the recent past. Cigarette smoke, cocktails and tuxedo’s, the music on the album feels more suited to this environment than, say a concert hall. The track “August” is a good representation of this feeling. You get the visual image of Blankenberg sitting in the corner of a room playing to a relaxed and attentive crowd of working professionals. This comes across in the opener “Tori” which balances this ‘smokiness’ with Modern Classical styling. There is a certain maturity that comes out in the pieces that is probably related to Blankenberg’s age (49).
There is an intimacy in the pieces, that comes across in the style of an honest conversation. That conversation or conversations varies in tone much like in real life and that is observed within the music with melancholia being noted in “October” or the introspective/reflective nature of “Juni”. “London Fields” marries minimalism (which in a way influences the label’s name) with stark and intense tones. There is a certain heft or weight to the playing which emphasises the emotions of the piece.
With “Femto” an avant-garde feel creeps into his playing which because of its mercifully brief length, you don’t really get to explore, but it does hint to his past in sound design and film. The Modern Classical sound is best heard in the track “Blenkhausen” which also mixes in others of the styles and influences that make up the album. “März” has a cinematic heart as it slowly unfurls revealing more, but also coming back to previous motifs.
With Blankenberg’s playing you get a mixture of styles, from long fluid movements to short truncated stab like touches. At times it feels free form and improv-like and at others considered and thought out. Despite the variation there is a certain consistency throughout the album that feels like Blankenberg’s stamp on the music. The albums finale “Nesuto” has a different feel to the remainder of the album, party due to being recorded in a different studio and also a more gentle and relaxed style of playing. This particular track stands out as, as much of the album is highly enjoyable, it just needs a little bit more variation – be it a different studio, a different piano or a different type of composition (cinematic, lyrical, change in pace) to add something extra it. Please don’t get me wrong, this is an enjoyable album and the type of album to wind down at the end of the day and relax to.
“Atermus” is available on CD, LP and Digital.