There's not enough biographical information in English on Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén to know for sure, but unless she grew up with avant-garde adults, she probably started out as a polite pianist, sitting with her back straight and making all the proper sounds. Then somewhere along the line, she took her hands off the keys and dared to reach inside, starting an entirely new musical journey. As evident in her first solo release, Catachresis, the universe that exists inside the piano has infinite galaxies, particularly when combined with a love for the eighty-eight keys.
The term "catachresis" is defined as: (1) use of the wrong word for the context; and (2) use of a forced and especially paradoxical figure of speech (such as "blind mouths"). The thirteen tunes on Ullén's release are full of the beauty of the "wrong" and the "forced." The sounds she coaxes — nay, demands — are unrelentingly powerful, and often quite stunning. Take, for example, "Periphrasis" (which means "use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression"). It's a fantastically harsh piece with a shocking and disturbing opening; the song continues along a raspy, jarring trajectory that grows to an almost alarming intensity, eventually incorporating interludes of silence and ending with three slow knocks. It's raw, naked music, full of emotional courage — one could even call it heroic.
But that's just one color scheme on Ullén's palette. The lovely "Talking to Carla" is a quieter piece with delicate, conversational turnings and harmonic wonderings. The brief "nol-i" is spirited and spacious, a light, sparkling probing that becomes more unruly as the tune progresses. Ullén also has a fondness for subterranean sounds, witness "Low Voice I" and "Low Voice II," songs that emerge from the left side of the keyboard and deep, dark bass notes. She creates resonances that travel to remarkable depths, allowing her to take deep soundings of the piano and the human soul and the places where they intertwine.
Ullén has thus far appeared in recordings only as a member of a group, but in Catachresis it's possible to hear her just as she is. What a pleasure to hear someone play with such gusto and vitality, such dexterity and emotional daring. Her music grants permission to live fully, and encourages the listener to do the unlikely: pick up the lid, prop it open, and don't be afraid of what's inside.
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