$10.00 – $16.95
This collection of 9 solo piano pieces was created in a collaborative project with my sister and visual artist, Loryn Spangler-Jones.
All music composed by Matthew Fries.
Cover art by Loryn Spangler-Jones.
Available on CD from CD Baby
- Audio Samples
About the Project
Music and the visual arts have always been inseparable companions. From Picasso’s paintings of guitars to Andy Warhol’s patronage of the Velvet Underground to the early rappers’ integral relationship with graffiti, the two disciplines have always relied upon one another for motivation. Think about your favorite albums of all time: invariably, the cover art comes immediately to mind along with the indelible music within.
For his first solo piano album, Parallel States, keyboardist and composer Matthew Fries and his sister, the award-winning and internationally recognized mixed media artist Loryn Spangler-Jones, have pooled their respective talents. “The title Parallel States relates to the concept of the music and art working together and how we created it,” says Fries. “It’s something the listener can think about while listening, or while looking at the paintings in Loryn’s exhibition. We began with the question of what inspires us as artists, and we then tried to inspire each other directly to create new work.”
Indeed, listening to the nine Fries compositions on Parallel States while viewing Spangler-Jones’ accompanying paintings is an experience that suggests undeniable associations even while simultaneously allowing for a full appreciation of each collaborator’s contribution to the whole. “The idea started,” says Fries, “when I asked Loryn if she would be interested in creating some cover art for a recording. It was possibly the first time I said out loud that I wanted to record solo piano. I knew she would push me to actually complete the project. She was very excited about it, and as we talked more about our art, how we view our processes and what inspires us, we came up with the idea of inspiring each other directly. We would send each other samples of what we were working on, and use that as inspiration (literal or not) to create the recording and an exhibition of paintings.”
“Roughly half of the music was inspired by various pieces of the art and half of the art was inspired by the music,” adds Spangler-Jones. “Each song has a corresponding piece of work (same title) to accompany it.”
The creative process involved equal input from both. “It went both ways,” says Fries, explaining how he and Loryn worked together. “I sent her home recordings of music I was writing. She sent me photos of her paintings. They can exist completely separately or be appreciated as a pair.”
For Fries, the challenge inherent in the project was not only in collaborating with a visual artist but in not collaborating with other musicians. “This is my first solo piano recording. I’ve been feeling for a long time that I wanted to record this genre, but it was a real challenge for me,” he says. “Playing solo piano you’re so free to express yourself, but you’re also exposing a very personal view of your music. I feel like I’ve developed a musical voice for myself as both a player and a composer in the ensemble setting (playing in trios, quartets or accompanying singers), but I’ve never felt that way about solo piano. Some of the tunes are more fully composed piano pieces, and others are more jazz songs that are open to a more traditional jazz interpretation. All of the recorded performances rely heavily on improvisation.”
Among the highlights on Parallel States is “Muse,” the opening track. “This tune actually starts with a specific chord voicing my girlfriend played on my piano randomly one day,” Fries says. “It was a bit of a musical joke we would play for each other. Eventually I started growing it into a composition and ended up liking the sound and shape of it. You’ll hear that same voicing come back in other keys and places in the melody, along with a few other motifs that I think tie it together nicely. It seems even more fitting that that one chord voicing would be the first thing you hear on the album—like a muse gave me the creative idea that starts the whole album. I recorded a quick version of it at home and sent it to Loryn.”
“Garden” another standout track, was written as a tribute to the British pianist John Taylor, who passed away last year. “He was a beautiful and sensitive pianist and composer,” Fries says. “I called it ‘Garden’ because much of the work Loryn was creating looked like flowers to me—a little attempt to create a more literal connection between abstract art and instrumental music.”
And “Just Keep Swimming,” the album’s penultimate track, “was one of the first images Loryn sent to me,” Fries says. “I loved it right away. I love the maturity and fearlessness in the open space she leaves in what is a pretty large canvas. It feels peaceful, honest and bold to me, and it seemed to express so many of the things I was feeling about creating a solo piano recording. I ended up composing a piece that borrows some of that minimalism and space.”
The album was recorded with Patrick Lore at One Soul Studios in Queens, N.Y. “He has a beautiful Steinway concert grand and is very into acoustic design,” says Fries. “The recording itself captures my live performance on that piano in that specific space. Many studio recordings are done in these sterile rooms with the intention of creating a listening environment with reverb or effects. We did add a bit of reverb in the end to make it more listenable, but I think this recording really captures the character specific to that instrument. I definitely had to be more patient with this music than with my other recordings,” he adds. “I also had to be OK with the recording just sounding like me! As strange as that sounds it’s a pretty big obstacle for an introverted, self-conscious pianist.”
Spangler-Jones faced her own challenges in working within the siblings’ chosen dual milieu. “This particular project definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me on many levels,” she says. “For the last 12 to 18 months I have been very focused on a minimalist approach and this, for me, requires an enormous amount of disciplined restraint. There was a certain juxtaposition in creating work to solo jazz piano. It was simple enough to work with just the piano as a solo instrument. The challenge became the intense intricacy found within the music itself. I would describe my brother’s music, especially on this album, to be a complicated yet rhythmic math problem filled with detailed nuances of the intentional placement of chords and melody. So, how does one paint that mouthful? There were days I would have particular songs on repeat for six to eight hours while attacking the canvas. For me the beauty in this project was the complete unity and connectedness with the entire album as well as the entire body of paintings. And I found balance in sharing the lead on the inspirational pieces.”
As a listener and viewer, it’s easy to feel what they felt—the deeper one delves into the music and the art, the more they seem to complement each other in a natural if indescribable way. “The art is abstract and the music is without words,” says Fries, “so the connections are not necessarily literal and obvious. But the shared experience was amazing for both of us and the results are something we’re both proud of.”
(press release by Jeff Tamarkin)