The 130701 label has a history of discovering new artists and exposing them to a larger audience. Artists like Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, Dmitry Evgrafov, Resina and Shida Shahabi have joined the likes of Max Richter, Jóhan Jóhannsson and Hauschka in the label’s catalog. Shida Shahabi is one of the label’s most recent discoveries with her debut album “Home” gaining great praise.
“A wonderfully immersive suite of five stunning new tracks, ‘Shifts’ expands upon Swedish-Iranian pianist / composer Shida Shahabi’s debut album and confirms her as a genuine new force in contemporary piano music. Stockholm-based Shida’s “Homes” LP was released on FatCat’s pioneering imprint in October 2018, with it’s gentle yet deeply immersive, homespun piano drawing comparisons to the likes of Goldmund and Nils Frahm. It was championed by BBC’s Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson, whilst MOJO marvelled at her “summoning music from the very bowels pf the piano, the out-of-focus opacity; like her simple, affecting melodic figures, suggesting… a half-submerged music that rewards the attentive ear”. Elsewhere Future Music called the album “a masterclass in simplicity… allowing each note the space and time to become truly affecting… a confident debut of a new artist with their own vision.” Released without a huge fanfare or big industry/marketing machinery, “Homes” nevertheless found a strong, organic connection with an audience, being picked up and shared across social media and through word of mouth, and viewed by many as one of last year’s finest piano albums.”
“Shifts” Shahabi’s second album is designed to push her music further forward while still using her favourite instrument, the JG Malmsjö upright piano, alongside cellist Linnea Olsson. She describes the new material as being “very much about continuing on exploring and pushing things to a direction sound-wise that makes me excited – trying out new things, learning and reflecting upon that.”. The album recorded at Shahabi’s old studio as well as her and Olsson’s own homes gives it at times a raw and natural feel to the material.
Prior to doing this blog I never really placed am emphasis on the track order of albums. I have assumed it to be similar to mix tapes (and much like the character Rob Gordon points out in “High Fidelity”) that the first track is designed to engage the interest of the listener with the rest to be a order not necessarily designed other than as a collection of songs. That thought process has changed and I now see the song order of releases having more importance than I did previously. A track like “Shifts” opener “Futō” not only sets the scene for the style you will hear over the course of the album, but also comes out strong. With the natural raw recordings where all creaks and noises are captured, the music creates this emotional intimacy with the delicate piano playing that has romantic qualities, the cinematic cello which swirls around, gently cloaking the material and the natural ambience of the recording. The prescence that the cello exudes and the way that at times it is barely there, accentuates the piece and shows how two musicians (as well as some fine mixing and mastering) can have such a massive effect on the music.
“All In Circles” flips somewhat the orientation of the instruments. While with “Futō” The cello was more a supporting instrument / sound source, on this particular track it takes more of a dominant position and in a way leads the music’s direction. I am somewhat reminded of Rachel’s as the music has a feel that is in some way nautical with the way it ebbs and flows, also in a sing – songy way. It once more reinforces how well Shahabi and Olsson collaborate together.
“Sea Ear” is a Moody piece that feels obscured with muted piano and a darker cello drone comprising the bulk of the music. Both the cello and piano sustain their notes which adds to the dronal quality of the music, as well as its tone and textures. Additional cello adds a mournful quality to the piece as does a minimal palette which adds space between the notes and makes the notes hang and fully explore their tones.
“Janvie” explores fragile intimacy with the rawness of the recordings that begun with “Futō” returning. You get the impression that a piece such as this was recorded in the small hours, such is the delicatessens of Piano playing. Shahabi sounds captivated as if she is being led by the piano. The notes on the label’s page for the release indicate that some tracks were recorded in single sittings and others worked over time. This particular track has the feeling of it being a one shot recording as there is a spontaneity and a freedom to the piece that comes across in both playing and sound.
“Keiki” brings the album to a close with a piece that has the album’s trademark rawness, tape hum and honesty while also having a slightly haunting quality that reminds me of “Futō” in essence bringing the record full circle with minimal drones /soundscape bathing the piano. Shahabi mixes more weighted playing with delicate touches as her fingers glide across the keys. You imagine her playing, eyes closed and entranced, letting the music come straight from her with an ease that is as effortless as it is entrancing. I am also reminded of my opening statement about track placements and how crucial they are to album’s successes. This particular track reminds you of what you have been listening to, reinforcing just how good the album is.
The number Piano albums released these days has definitely seen a saturated market which makes it hard for artists to stand out for the simple fact that there is a lot of beautiful music being made, but it can also sound quite samey. Over these five tracks Shahabi (with Olsson’s help) clearly stakes out her own territory with an album where each track is a real pleasure to listen to. “Shifts” is released on November 8 via 130701 on Lp and Digital and is totally recommended.