Steve Roach has been on a fairly prolific streak over the last couple of years that has manifested itself in several incarnations, from deep drifts to back-to-the-begnning analog workouts. With such a spread—which is nothing new for Mr. Roach—there are a lot of familiar sounds and vistas in his canon, which is what makes the beginning of Etheric Imprints very interesting. It’s something we haven’t really heard before: Roach on piano. The first of the four long tracks that make up Etheric Imprints is 29 minutes of Roach playing and manipulating an electric grand piano in real time. Somber in tone and picked out slowly note by patient note, this title track grabs hold of the resonant sounds of each strike on the keys and weaves it into the shifting background. Roach uses this to lead us into a dark and quiet middle section that gives more space to the ambient tones, then lets the piano rise back up. It’s a lovely, shadow-filled and contemplative piece that deserves the attention it’s getting for its perceived deviation from standard Roach course. After the auspicious start, Etheric Imprints explores three other spaces with a stronger common tie to Roach’s expected sounds. But even at that, there are twists. “Indigo Shift” plays with dissonant tones tied into a dark, drifting wall of sound for an interesting, uneasy feel. There’s a very effective stretch just before mid-track, and repeated later, where these twisting rogue tones work against a set of rising pads; it becomes almost a kinetic thing, the two element pushing against each other with growing force. That sense of unease gets stronger here before Roach lets you relax. By comparison, “Holding Light” takes the listener upward, out toward spacemusic territory. I’m reminded of the big starscapes Roach explored in The Magnificent Void. Gentle power, a sense of range and scope, meditative beauty–all in this classic-ambient track. The balance of dark and light is completed on “The Way Forward” as it slowly pieces together a melodic line on swelling chords. Just as the title track worked its way through its story draped in greys and questions, this piece uses brighter tonal hues and a sense of certainty and optimism.
Much will be said of the piano on Etheric Imprints (and already has). It’s funny how a simple switch of approach garners so much discussion. Looking at the album as a whole, Roach once again balances his equation and puts forth a journey with a discernibly different start and finish. And although we begin in “new” territory and wind up in a familiar spot, it is that journey that matters. We go into Etheric Imprints looking to set aside an hour to explore and see, and that is exactly what Roach gives us, as usual.
Available from Steve Roach’s web site.