The teaching of samsara, or “continuous flow”, is that a spiritual cycle of birth, death and rebirth haunts all of creation. A beautiful 2012 documentary of the same name loosely translates the concept to cinema, albeit with heavy moral implications. Portuguese pianist Tiago Sousa is likely familiar with the film, as he’s currently scoring a short work of his own.
Just as samsara bears the implication that something must be done to escape the cycle of life, Samsara (the album) is an attempt to escape the cycle of stagnant composition. Sousa is not afraid to hit the right wrong note or chord, and on this album he hits quite a few; the opening piece begins in decidedly atonal fashion. And yet, the more such notes are struck, the more natural they seem, the product of a bold instinct.
A composer who hits the wrong notes is not effective unless listeners hear that he knows how to hit the right ones. The delicate melodic opening of “Samsara II” demonstrates Sousa’s ability to write and perform phrases that might appeal to mass audiences. Even though he doesn’t stay in this arena for long, the un-damage is done, and one begins to listen with new ears. Sousa rises to a flourish and descends to a lilt, imitating the cycle. Mid-piece, he nearly stops. There’s plenty of time to complete the journey, or no time at all, or time has no relevance. Sousa toys with momentum and tempo in such a fashion as to draw the listener close. Can anything new be said with the same 88 keys? Apparently, yes.
By the closing piece, “Samsara IIII”, Sousa has grown nearly confrontational. The keys and chords are hit with greater alacrity, racing toward an unseen end that one hopes will not be the same as the beginning. It’s as if the mind is awakening to the possibilities that the lips are insufficient to voice. And then there is silence (7:14), allowing room for contemplation; and a final rise, accompanied by the strumming of the piano’s inner strings. Has the soul escaped the cycle, or has the avid artist simply illuminated the path? Either way, a light beckons. (Richard Allen)