With The Grunewald Session, 1631 Recordings continues on their tear, having now released approximately three dozen piano-based works in a single season. This short album is the best of the recent batch. It’s the first public set from Sebastian and Daniel Selke (CEEYS), a semi-historical document incorporating Cold War ideas and moods. As the brothers write, “In the last decade of the GDR the endless grey blocks of cold concrete, steel, and glass communicate only anonymity and oppression. After the fall of the wall and during the 90s the region kept a blend of an edgy feeling of departure yet vague melancholy.” The album communicates an odd feeling of cold and warmth, the spacious compositions for piano, cello and subtle electronics contributing to the former and the intimacy of the church setting to the latter. The impression is one of muted acceptance: not that the brothers miss the pre-fall division, but that they now navigate a more complicated world.
The listener is eased into the album with slow tones and cautiously developed structures, the brothers trading the spotlight for the first two tracks as each is given the chance to lead. When fog-like drones enter “Passepied”, one senses something more foreboding, a feeling cemented by the cavernous beats of “Concrete Field”. These may just be taps and hits, but they hint at a time when musicians were forced to rely on their own resources. First single “Opal Glass” provides a perfect distillation of the aforementioned “vague melancholy”; the oddity (for a first taste) is that the piano is absent. The track includes one choral note (only one!) at 1:53, providing the tiniest possible hint of hope; the children in the background of the subsequent piece crack the window open just a little bit more. As they grow louder, the instrumentation does as well, and it stays that way for the remainder of the album.
Closing piece “Traffic” is the album’s busiest cut, symbolizing the emergence of a new society, with all of its burdens and benefits. A new era has arrived. The sheer amount of notes in the piece reflects the opportunities afforded by the unified nation. If only for 3:21, the cloud passes, the melancholy lifts, and joy takes over, happy in the moment, unconcerned about what may come. (Richard Allen)