• Wed, Aug 10, 2022
Reviews

Nipun Cheema Paints The Most Vibrant Of Pictures

9.5

album Reviews Jul 12, 04:40pm

His EP ‘Miniatures’ is an instrumental release to play again and again

You might know Nipun Cheema. He’s a pianist and composer par excellence who’s based in Chandigarh. He teaches (at CoLab), he’s involved in a few properties based out of his city (Open Hand Jazz Fest and more) and his musical repertoire is one that comes only with a great deal of study and hard work. He’s worked in Bollywood too. Now, you might be thinking that ‘Miniatures (Solo Piano)’, his bonkers good EP that came out recently, is a purely academic listening experience; one where you are expected to pick out nothing but technicalities and marvel at his playing. Sure, that’s a part of it, but what the music here does is present two things. One is the simple power of the piano and the other is the sheer range of feeling you can have from said piano. It’s exquisite.

The piano is a strange instrument in that it is often used in a solo context for every sonic thread that runs through the genre it lives in; rhythm, melodies, mood, ambience, purity, dirt, whatever. The five songs on this EP are sort of abstractions of thoughts about space and the stars (cue the classic review words ‘expanse’, ‘breath’ and ‘wonder’). There’s less than thirteen minutes of music on this thing, but they convey the sentiments they deal with and so much more. It’s not often (especially these days) that music which gives the listener the immense mental freedom to colour in their own thoughts into an idea actually does so. Here, it does. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is the longest tune on here, five minutes long and an absolute treat. Influences and styles aside (those are better left to more experience and erudite piano players), this song reflects something a bit fearful and confused but hopeful, maybe? It’s a mistake to fill in gaps that are very personal to the listener, but the thoughts attached to the left hand playing and the rather rhythmic right hand melodies are so arresting that they almost land onto your ear. You can hear Nipun humming what’s in his head as he’s playing it (a la Keith Jarrett?), and while that is artistic expression of course, it provides this little touch of humanity sonically; it’s just great. The general rhythms on this tune are simultaneously old-world and on the more pulsing side. For most people who haven’t heard much about solo piano, this is a great introduction to certain motifs and stylistic choices.

 

 

‘Smaller Constellations’ is one of the four two-minute pieces that make up the rest of the EP. It has a more swirling, rounded vibe than the more ‘concrete’ one of the previous tune, but it does elicit a dreamy, contemplative mood. There’s a real danger to talking too much about these vignettes; the idea behind them (or preludes, as one could call them) is to provide a quick little snapshot of a bigger idea. So, ‘Air Chrysalis’ is an urgent number with some completely insane playing and… scatting? There’s some proper jazz in here, which makes it a total standout if you’re into that sort of thing. The breakneck pace of this track makes it instantly memorable. ‘Le Blanc N’Existe Pas’ is a delicious bit of playing, with some lovely chords and that kind of tactile, stream-of-consciousness vibe one would instantly be able to imagine live. It leaves as quickly as it arrives; a burst of colour. It all ends with ‘Hume’s Problem Of Induction’, perhaps the most ‘classical’ piece on here in terms of impact. There’s something very tangibly dynamic to the 80 seconds of music that might remind one of other, maybe older piano pieces they enjoy. There’s a lot to take in.

‘Miniatures’, past the great playing, the very clear, real production (obviously, you can hear every little sound the piano makes and not just hammers hitting strings) and the concept, shows a side of instrumental music we don’t see as often as we maybe should. It shows the idea of involving the listener as an active part of a soundscape. Fine, you can read into the titles and allow yourself a starting point, but after that, you are almost sculpting your own thoughts into form with some music providing you the fuel to do so. That’s almost comically hard to achieve with any kind of art, and the fact that Nipun Cheema can get you dreaming and thinking with your ears is, frankly, pretty awesome.

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