The Lubomyr Melnyk story is one of the best in music, a sonic parallel to that of J.K. Rowling with more than a touch of magic. After a lifetime of making “continuous music,” the Ukrainian pianist entered the public eye in 2013, courtesy of Erased Tapes. He’d been penniless, homeless, “deeply broken hearted,” reviled by the occasional critic who stopped in to hear “the fastest pianist in the world.” Now nearing the age of 70, he’s stopped asking why it took him so long to be discovered and has settled in to his new role as mentor. If the new album sounds less melancholic than prior works, it may be because he’s no longer alone. Hatis Noit is with him this time around, along with Anne Müller and David Allred, a multigenerational family of support. Some days, the new truth must still be surprising: he is cherished, he is appreciated, he is loved.
Cascade is the word most commonly used to describe Melnyk’s notes, which fall like rain, leaves or snow, depending on the season, a seemingly endless stream. If anyone had the patience and ears to count these notes, it would be interesting to chart how many are present in a single track, as opposed to those in the tracks of his labelmates. More notes doesn’t automatically mean better, but in his case the notes seem to be transformed into waves. So what might happen when these waterfalls meet the extended intonations of Hatis Noit in “Requiem for a Fallen Tree”? The answer is delicious contrast. Here is the older man, staring out the window of the train, remarking at the beauty of the fallen trees, which he calls “sorrowful, but hopeful … killed, but (not) dead.” The final two movements of the title track are “They Are Down” and “Not Forgotten.” He may see in these trees a reflection of his own life. His hands begin to twitch as he gazes through the glass. He taps his tendons, dreaming of the keys. And now Hatis Noit slows everything down, elongates syllables, sings a sad, slow, elegy. Dead Can Dance comes to mind. This inspired collaboration plays with time, which was already the subject, a pianist playing as many notes as he can, as quickly as he can, knowing one day he will run out.
“Barcarolle” is one of the most beautifully defined pieces that Melnyk has ever produced, but to our chagrin we had to look up the definition of the word. Turns out it’s a style of Venetian gondolier song in 6/8 or 12/8, later popularized in opera. There’s no opera here, save for the aural reflection of gentle paddles. This remarkable piece leads to the ambitious 21-minute title suite, its length emphasizing the strength of Melnyk’s hands, its intricacy the strength of his mind. The piece ~ in fact the entire album ~ is a tribute to golden, neglected beauty. At this time of year, most people are more interested in fallen leaves, not fallen trees, but Melnyk has an eye for the forgotten. He recalls the joy of a child finding a felled tree, a fresh treat filled with splinters, bee hives, bird nests and concentric rings. And when the full cast enters ~ Noit, Allred, Müller ~ it’s as if he’s run home at full speed, eager to alert his friends, his generous heart wanting to share his treasure with others.
As the sun sets earlier and the days are suffused with filtered light, let the sound of Fallen Trees be a reminder that all things die, but that even the dead can glow. (Richard Allen)