Library Tapes: Escapism
David Wenngren's latest Library Tapes can be summed up in five words (compound words counting as one): uncommonly lovely classical piano-and-cello settings. Of course much more can be said about the project than that: to begin with, the cellist in question is the magnificent Julia Kent; secondly, Wenngren plays piano but also celeste on the ten-track collection. Not unusual for a Library Tapes release, Escapism's pieces are short, with only three pushing past the three-minute mark and the total running-time a svelte twenty-five minutes.
As a project, Library Tapes has certainly changed over time, as a comparison between Escapism and earlier releases such as 2005's Alone in the Bright Lights of a Shattered Life and 2007's Feelings for Something Lost (both on Resonant) makes clear. Library Tapes was then a duo affair, with Wenngren joined by Per Jardsell; today, of course, it's Wenngren alone. More significantly, those earlier recordings feature dusty sounds of field recordings, piano, and acoustic guitar, whereas the new one's sound palette is simple and straightforward by comparison. That it is so isn't cause for disappointment, however: Escapism is a thoroughly satisfying collection, even if it's one that's less sonically experimental in design than ones that came before.
The celeste adds an otherworldy, fairy tale-like quality to the tracks on which it appears, with its bright tinklings offset by the earthy sound of Kent's multi-layered cello on “Introduction I” and “Achieving Closure.” The insistent lilt generated by the duo imbues “Running by the Roads, Running by the Fields” with a strong nostalgic character; “A Summer by the Sea II” and “Tristesse/Escapism” slow things down and induce states of contemplative reverie in the listener as a result. “Silhouettes” exudes a ponderous and stately air, and “Introduction II” parts company with the other pieces in featuring Kent alone. Much of Escapism is sombre and even mournful in tone, though not depressingly so.
If there's anything of which to be critical here, it's that brevity sometimes works against the material; pieces such as “Running by the Roads, Running by the Fields” and “A Summer by the Sea II” might have had even greater impact had they been allowed to develop more. That said, there's no denying that the elegant music that is here is beautiful indeed and that the level of musicianship is commensurate with it. For those wanting more cello-and-piano duets, by the way, Escapism makes for a natural companion to Love and Other Tragedies, the mid-2015 release by Roger O'Donnell that pairs his playing with Kent's.