“‘Prism’ shows off Martin Graff’s uncanny ability to sculpt an entire aural universe—one that feels all-consuming…” [show more]
Martin Graff delivers a delicate impressionistic work on “Prism.” Without needing to say a single word, a narrative takes shape. The keys are played with a sense of softness. Everything about the sound has a hushed loveliness to it. Nods to Debussy proves to be readily apparent. By keeping things so delicate, there is a beauty to the way of the evolution, letting the melodies intermingle, resulting in the piece becoming absolutely gorgeous. The rhythms here have a grandeur, for he keeps things rather stately. All of it features a sense of life, one that feels so reassuring.
Right from the beginning, he sets the scene with the fragile touches to start things up. From the first moment the piece seemingly wafts up into the air, he incorporates the right degree of passion, making sure to bare his heart through the sound. Various elements seem to bounce off each other since there is a greatness in the way he creates a dialogue within the piece. Everything in the music has a great color to it, as there is a prism-like quality to the way he lets the chords change with a kaleidoscopic array of different elements to balance it all together. For the finale, he ties everything together, going towards a cyclical approach to the songcraft.
“Prism” shows off Martin Graff’s uncanny ability to sculpt an entire aural universe—one that feels all-consuming.
—SM, April , 2022
Skope Entertainment is a music-based media company founded in January 2001, headquartered in Boston, MA with readers and staff from all over the globe, covering and engaging an audience of music enthusiasts with diverse tastes for the digital age.
sleeping bag studios
“A stellar voyage through sonic reflections of light in the dark…” [show more]
I mean…what kind of fan of music would I be if I just started randomly hatin’ on this gem, right?
It ain’t gonna happen folks. Not now, not today, not ever. It would be very strange for me to not enjoy listening to a track like “Prism” from Martin Graff’s brand-new album called Trips For Piano. Guy’s got a brilliant touch on the piano, unique and imaginative ideas, a wonderfully expressive and bold style of his own, and a fantastic grip on what makes melody move us as listeners. Truly, what’s not to love? Graff’s got a gift – it’s been awesome listening to him use it all to the fullest like he does on the opening track, “Prism.”
Phew. I’m so proud of myself. This was gonna be all about me right from the start if I wasn’t too careful – I was gonna start this up with the whole six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon thing, given that I’m the son of a musician, who just happens to be a piano player, and also the keyboardist for a good ol’ Canadian band known as Prism. Small world right? I made it to the second full paragraph to tell ya! Longest I could hold out, folks.
Anyhow. It seems like Martin’s got quite the story, and it seems like we’ve got about a tenth of it. In the notes I’ve got scattered across my desk here, revealed in the dim light of a candle nearly burned to the bottom of the wick, I can see a tale of how creativity and passion somehow nearly killed the guy. I ain’t here to tell ya that isn’t true. I’m, in fact, sure that it is, and his theory holds water as far as I know – but I am sayin’ use your words there brother-man. It’s one thing to say that, it’s another thing to explain it in a way that we can tangibly understand. All I’ve got to go on here is that it eventually sends Martin to a seventeen year self-imposed exile from music before his return last year with the new album out. Am I able to connect those dots? Not one heckin’ bit y’all. Don’t get me wrong: I know creativity and passion are tough beasts to wrangle firsthand, but as to how that ends up becoming a seventeen-year absence? I need more to that story, and if I’m being real with ya, I think it’s fully to his benefit to tell it.
Perhaps another time. For now, I’m just gonna have to deal with having a gorgeous new piano melody to listen to, and enjoy the innovative and expressive way that Graff plays his instrument – it’s a tough life I lead. It is probably fair to say that Martin’s single, “Prism,” will challenge a few of ya out there, as he’s not working within one of the most linear ideas you’re gonna hear this year, but there’s real beauty to be found by coloring outside the lines and being a bit more deviant with the way you choose to play music. This is how you stand out in the instrumental realm and approach it the right way; you’ll find yourself either noticing the stellar technique he plays with and dig that, or you might very well notice that “Prism” doesn’t just take ya on any kind of boring tour through a verse/chorus/verse type-structure. Obviously, the first part of that scenario goes down smoothly, and the latter half can be more of a battle to get some people onboard – but they both equate to the same key detail: people be listenin’ y’all. A stellar voyage through sonic reflections of light in the dark, you’ll see the video Martin’s put together for “Prism” even draws on that theme, taking you through a revealing tour through nature’s visual splendor. I tell ya dear readers, dear friends, the beauty of piano and the perfect dose of light in the right setting? It can even make the most ugly parts of our planet like buildings and concrete start to seem warm and inviting.
There are moments where I end up wondering what’s being communicated, or how, like, for example, when you trip on past the 4:10-ish mark to discover a few more notes and tones piled up on each other than you’d probably expect, and maybe a bit of coloring outside the lines that may/may-not work for some of the listening ears out there without the full context. But, for the most part, I’d readily assume that most folks will be as highly engaged as I was in listening to the expressive way that Graff plays, and really appreciate the way that “Prism” seems to tell a story to us, even without using a single word as it plays.
Think of it as a gently progressive instrumental. Martin doesn’t shy away from the creativity he’s got – at least, not anymore after the aforementioned seventeen mysterious years away – and you can hear how a piece like this represents the cracks in the darkness he has experienced, how it represents the light that brought him back to where he belongs, rockin’ the bench and ticklin’ the ivories as he was clearly meant to. He’s got a spirited melody and an inspired sound. Martin’s playing with renewed confidence, and clearly ready to make this next chapter in his story, life, and music career, count more than ever before.
—Jer@SBS, April 22, 2022
Jer@SBS spends every waking moment advocating for the incredible music made by musicians worldwide. Posting album reviews, podcasts, interviews, and an internet show for Sleeping Bag Studios has allowed him to live out his dreams by being an honest voice and support for the independent music scene.
“‘Sativa’ has a stately presence to it, for Martin Graff’s galloping chords and delicate gestures result in a fully immersive world, lyrical without needing to say a single word…” [show more]
Martin Graff features his impeccable chops on the piano with the impressionistic “Sativa.” Things are kept to the essentials—only the power of the singular instrument. How he makes that single thing sing is remarkable. Going on a virtual journey from classical to jazz to pop and more, there is a lot to unpack with his multiple suites of sound. Volume shifts too, adding to the intrinsic beauty of the piece making sure that it evolves at a careful pace. Rhythms have a grace to them, for they speed up and slow down on the stop of a dime. By allowing this ebb and flow, Graff creates a connection between older piano solos and newer music.
Within the older, decidedly more classic side of things, Martin employs the dreamy disposition of Debussy’s work into the atmosphere. Sounds virtually waft on up into the sky, thanks to their careful cadence. Elements of Chopin’s defiance can be seen over the course of the experience as well. For the newer side, George Winston’s yearningly beautiful work can be found in abundance. Also found deep in the confines of the experience is some of Max Richter’s soundtrack work. Thanks to Martin Graff’s own careful focus he creates an identity that has a uniqueness to it. The burst of the keys leads to a wonderful decay, one that captures a romanticism to it. Little nimble elements come into the fray. He makes sure to set the mood. Out of nowhere he lets the piece seemingly rise up, as if awakening from a deep slumber. Lots of light pours into each gesture, making it so lovely to behold. Downright beautiful, the experience has a force of nature to it, delicate yet persistent. A clear-eyed focus allows the piece lots of room to roam. By making sure that every detail, big and small, are given equal weight, he lets the work develop in a kind, affectionate way.
“Sativa” has a stately presence to it, for Martin Graff’s galloping chords and delicate gestures result in a fully immersive world, lyrical without needing to say a single word.
—BS, March 25, 2022
Beach Sloth examines meaning in an adjacent space created from his own experience with music. His writing embodies the open warmth that has made ‘alt lit’ a welcoming space for so many young people to share their creative work.
“Martin Graff is a pianist and composer who is exceptionally talented at creating music that defies the usual expectations…” [show more]
Martin Graff is a pianist and composer who is exceptionally talented at creating music that defies the usual expectations. His most recent studio effort, “Sativa”, is a perfect example. This composition is featured within his new LP, Trips for Piano.
The sound feels all-embracing and immersive, not only providing a soothing, trippy vibe, but also allowing the listener to experience a more immersive deep dive into the sound. Martin Graff shows a lot of versatility, and his sound could undoubtedly be categorized as a clever and personable blend of genres like score music or neoclassical soundscapes. It is not always easy for artists to allow different styles to coexist under one roof, but “Sativa” makes it look very seamless, as the release feels like a perfect balance of these different influences, enabling the audience to gain an insightful perspective on what drives Martin Graff as an artist and music creator. In the end, it’s all about connecting and inspiring! In this case, you can get plenty of inspiration without even a single word being uttered. The melodies are sparse and minimalistic, yet richly nuanced. The dynamics in Martin’s playing are absolutely outstanding, allowing him to go whisper-quite in some parts, while taking his piano to its loudest, fullest dynamics, especially when he hits the thundering low notes that makes his compositions stand out. Playing with different octaves is a great way to achieve a more “dramatic” effect, and Martin is really a master of this throughout the new LP. However, the big variety of sound doesn’t detract from the essence of this release, which as the title might imply, aims to be a musical journey, perhaps with a bit of an introspective touch. This album is like staring back at your own soul and perhaps getting to know it a little better than before due to the enlightening and somewhat liberating nature of this fantastic musical voyage.
Find out more about Martin Graff, and do not pass up on listening to “Sativa”. This album is definitely something for you to consider if you happen to be a fan of artists as diverse as Ludovico Einaudi, Achille Claude Debussy, and Philip Glass, only to name a few. Check out “Sativa” on your favorite streaming services.
—AJ, March 24, 2022
Andrew Jarvis is chief curator at Bandcamp, overseeing label and artist outreach and hosting the Bandcamp Weekly show. For over 15 years as VP of A&R and Operations, he set the musical tone at Ubiquity Records, and signed and handled negotiations and relations with artists worldwide.
“Martin Graff’s music is pure beauty… a superlative work of art.” [show more]
Gifted musician and spoken word artist Martin Graff unveils the music video for “Sativa,” a track lifted from his recent album, Trips for Piano. A finalist for Best Classical Artist in the 2022 DC Wammie Awards, Martin Graff’s music is pure beauty.
Trips for Piano chronicles Martin Graff’s return to music, as well as his renewed creativity expressing itself through liberation and joy. For almost 17 years, Martin isolated himself from music, the result of the overwhelming potency of passion and creativity.
At the age of four, Martin sat at a piano and knew that he and the piano were “meant to be.” Yet creativity requires a type of cautionary care or else it can engulf. After years of separation from a state of flow, Martin rekindled the feeling he experienced during his love-at-first-sight encounter with the instrument, a feeling he recognized had never really left him.
Trips for Piano is meant to remind us that the essence of creativity is always there, we can always fall back on it.
Martin believes that artistry belongs to all people, whether they identify as artists or not. From his perspective, his music only achieves vitality when listeners bring their own personal narrative arc to the experience.
Sativa is a subspecies of cannabis known for its invigorating, activating effects that alleviate anxiety and stress while augmenting creativity and focus.
“Sativa” opens on an elegant, trickling piano flowing into exquisite filaments of color, rippling tones, and graceful leitmotifs. The feel and flow of the tune is at once gorgeous and meditative, allowing listeners time and space to probe their innermost thoughts and feelings.
Martin’s technique is not only superb, but evocative, summoning up gentle, misty coloration and soft, shimmering reflections.
Amalgamated with the alluring music, the video provides magnificent images of the serene beauty of the natural world.
Wow! “Sativa” is wonderfully wrought, a superlative work of art.
—RR, March 15, 2022
Randy Radic is a Left Coast author, writer, and editor who contributes to Ozy.com, BlogCritics.org, AND Magazine, and Pop Off. He writes true crime under the pen name of John Lee Brook, and his books have been published by ECW Press, Headpress, and Trine Day.
“You can’t help but be impressed by the rich depth of musicality he invokes in a relatively short amount of time. Trips for Piano promises to deliver…” [show more]
Martin Graff’s single “Sativa” hails from his recent release Trips for Piano and is part of an overall larger package including a spectacular video montage for some of the pieces. It’s the latest high point for the composer-pianist, spoken word artist, and 2022 finalist for a 2022 DC Wammie Award for Best Classical Artist.
It isn’t surprising at all, when you hear “Sativa,” that Graff has immersed himself in music since the age of four. The pull of music exerted such a profound effect on Graff’s life, however, that he made the decision to turn away. Almost two decades passed before he decided to pursue his musical ambitions again, but you don’t hear any of that during “Sativa.”
I hear a mix of understated classical affectations and jazz percolating throughout the piece. He achieves such seamlessness between the composition’s influences that even experienced music listeners will struggle to hear where one strand ends, and another begins. There are vibrant melodic strengths present and Graff’s playing rhapsodizes with a moody lyricism that lingers with you long after the piece finishes. It’s this kind of music we need more than ever – work with staying power.
Instrumental tracks work to find significant audiences, but there’s nothing about “Sativa” dooming it to that fate. The aforementioned melodic attributes are more than sufficient for making casual listeners ignore the absence of a singer. His craftsmanship keeps things tight and focused. There’s plenty of room for the composition to breathe in his hands, however, because his exceptional timing shines through.
Anyone fearful of pretentiousness when you hear Graff is a spoken word performer and multi-instrumentalist can rest easy. He doesn’t come across as someone trying to prove something. He has a relaxed command over the playing that inspires confidence in listeners; it’s likely a hallmark of Trips for Piano. Nothing about the performance sounds forced and there’s a natural flow to his performance certain to hook many listeners.
It’s hard to deny the poignant effect he will have on some listeners. There’s beautiful elegance alive in every turn of “Sativa” and, when you take Graff’s back story into account, it’s easy to assign added significance to the performance. Returning to music is one of the pivotal moments in Graff’s life and “Sativa” reflects that in its gravity and deep feeling. It never overstays its welcome either. You can’t help but be impressed by the rich depth of musicality he invokes in a relatively short amount of time.
It works well as either a standalone single or a preview of sorts for a longer release. It’s easy to expect, however, that we will be hearing more from this talented composer in the near future as it beggars belief he ends seventeen years of silence with an eight track LP and that’s it. “Sativa” sounds like the work of an artist full of vigor and a willingness to stick with it for the long haul. Even if this is all we get, however, “Sativa” and Trips for Piano promises to deliver.
—JM, March 11, 2022
“With a calming ambiance and featuring a wizard-like level of genius proportions, Graff’s remarkable style picks up your bad mood to flip it around and brings you back into a much happier space in the world, where you may feel so much more satisfied with life…” [show more]
Taken off his recent eight-track album called Trips for Piano, Martin Graff brings us much enlightened peace for our worried souls with a piece that will have you feeling purified again with “Sonare.”
Martin Graff is a mightily skilled composer-pianist, illustrator, writer, and spoken-word performer, who is based in safe and flourishing Arlington, Virginia. With one of the most impressive chin-beards you will ever see, he uses these superpowers to make the type of music you can just sit back with and let it lather a web of pureness all over your willing body.
“At four, my family inherited an old, anonymous piano, and I surged with an uncontainable energy to climb onto the bench and dig my hands into those eight-eight bits of clay, instinctively molding them into little aural landscapes. Crude and square at first; at last, faceted gems after a lifetime of practice, polish, and love.” —Martin Graff
With a calming ambiance and featuring a wizard-like level of genius proportions—which certainly has you dazzled and perhaps a tad flustered at times—his remarkable style is truly translucent as he picks up your bad mood to flip it around and brings you back into a much happier space in the world, where you may feel so much more satisfied with life.
“Making this music is the opposite of death, like the centrifugal force around the sharpest bend of the greatest roller coaster. A reharmonizing of my most tumultuous internal cacophonies and maybe yours. So, listen up as I bang on this gong from the Gods! As the resonance of these radiant compositions fill your ear and make their way to your heart.” —Martin Graff
“Sonare,” from the multi-skilled Virginia-based composer-pianist Martin Graff, is a lovely piece of art from a highly skilled artist who brings so much joy to many. His excellent technique is truly incredible and sadly underrated, as he plays with a true love for what he does. This is a song which will sooth many a soul and bring you back to a place in time where you feel most content.
The true aim of music is to bring us together and heal the wounds of the past, after all.
—LS, September 13, 2021
Llewelyn Screen is music journalist, freelance music booking agent, band manager, optimist, and live-music lover out of Cape Town, South Africa.
“Trips for Piano is a one-way, one-stop pilgrimage home. Like heaven is supposed to be…” [show more]
“Be Where You Are, Where You Are: Trips for Piano by Martin Graff”
Prepare for a gratifying journey to nowhere. Martin Graff’s Trips for Piano is less a rushing, ocean-bound river than a serenely spiraling eddy. It’s a one-way, one-stop pilgrimage home. Like heaven is supposed to be. It’s not trying to run a gauntlet of expression or explore new technical frontiers. It’s not about sharp contrast or flamboyant virtuosity. What we get is a series of emphatic propositions on substantially one topic. Each of the eight pieces in this set runs in its own channel, yet flows from the same emotional vortex. They are a plain-spoken bundle of love letters. The prevailing mood is undeviating, an octet of sketches on the same character. Each enters the same dramatic stage vacated by its predecessor, but it’s more like a wardrobe change than a new actor.
These meditations are by turns delicate, deliberate, dreamy, excursive, intimate, patient, thunderous, and wispy. The titles only vaguely suggest their meanings and Graff wisely avoids spelling them out in pandering program notes. He doesn’t need to. These are very direct musical statements. That Graff eschews academic obfuscation in his composing is putting it mildly. On first hearing, the music sounds deeply familiar, its affects quarried from the foundation stone of musical sensation. This is a no-irony zone. That is especially intriguing given its contrast with Marty’s winkingly oblique, multi-layered, graphic/prose free-association project, The Face Zone, which is full of sundry satires. Not here, though. The simplicity and earnestness of this music is a bit like looking directly into a sonic sun. Fortunately, Graff never lets that radiance become static.
It flows, or rather, spins, with constant morphing and spontaneously intuitive digressions averting any heavy-handedness. One never quite knows in what direction it will swirl next. That’s because Graff’s forms and musical progressions rely more on an intuitive succession of loosely related ideas than on thematic rigor or any other formulaic template. Pieces rarely revisit their origins, yet somehow avoid topical non sequiturs, a significant compositional achievement. There is an engaging metamorphosis in spite of the general uniformity of pacing. All of them are moderately slow but have a temporal and dynamic push and pull that creates visceral topography, rushing and relaxing, rising and falling. Harmonic interest is maintained not so much through novel chords as by novel harmonic movement, more like Brahms than Berio. Gesturally, it’s more a patient lilt than a pulsating stride.
Graff’s meticulous playing is welded inseparably into each piece. It’s obvious they can go no other way than he plays them. Intention informs each note and yields a definitive performance. Firmly settled details of dynamics, durations, tempos, pedaling, and voicing render a reading of reference. Fortunately, the composer understands the sonorous capabilities of the instrument, both as creator and performer; e.g. chords in various guises are both written and voiced for perfect growl and chime.
It would be a mistake to call Trips any kind of new age music. These are certainly pretty piano pieces, but otherwise they’re unrelated to those naive, pandering drones that lurk in that insipid corner of the genre galaxy. For one thing, they aren’t trying to soothe you. They are trying to break your heart. They seamlessly blend styles without any real obligation to them, so labeling them classical-ish or jazz-ish would be simplistic and misleading. They have a kind of mongrel hybrid vigor that begs new taxonomy. I honestly don’t know what to label them and that’s good.
While each of these short works is self-contained, they flow well as a set since their revolving variety and unforeseen redirections keep them mercurial and fresh. I imagine these would be heard to best effect while sitting immobile, staring at the horizon, a wall, a cat, nothing, anything, for the full duration. I did it while gazing eastward at a mountainous horizon, late on a hazy, warm, desert afternoon. Going nowhere, the music and vista fused into one complete experience. However you take this trip, it will be less a sojourn than a sesshin, more mantra than menagerie. It will remind you that you’re already right where you’re supposed to be. Someplace like heaven.
—PB, May 29, 2021
Paul Barsom rides bicycles, writes and plays music, and is continually amazed by pretty much everything. His current music project is The Weed Garden.
KEN M (Ken Mccarthy)
“Trips for Piano is a strikingly unfettered exploration into one’s secret inner life…” [show more]
A “pianistic” piano piece is understandably bound to logistical considerations as much as aesthetic ones. There’s the old-school piano composer’s hard-wired dichotomy about asymmetrical roles of the left and right hand, structural background-middle ground-foreground layering for bass, chordal harmony, and melody. And let’s not forget about the hot foot play.
In that light, Martin Graff’s album Trips for Piano is a refreshing and revelatory collection of works in which a formidably well-trodden instrument finds itself beholden to his unyielding whims, and where the practical yields to the depthless, abstract demands of artistic expression. There’s audacious simplicity alongside seemingly effortless virtuosity, including moments where even harsher dissonances, through Graff’s delivery, strike my ear as warm consonance.
Having had the benefit of reading his lovingly engraved scores, I marvel at his specificity when it comes to denoting mood, phrasing, dynamics, articulation, and subtle shifts in tempo. As a lifelong, yet admittedly sloppy, pianist (a friend and fellow musician once gifted me with the nickname “Banana Fingers”), encountering this level of meticulousness can initially seem daunting, if not tyrannical, but it’s actually a generous offering of guideposts for any performer ready to join him on this wonderfully transcendent journey.
With his piece “Into…” I admire the richness Graff is able to achieve via two contrapuntal voices, along with a simple theme that manages to rise to profundity through its sheer persistence, taking me to experiential spaces from a younger time I’d honestly forgotten all about.
“Prism” alternates both naturally and unexpectedly between spaciously voiced modality and more chromatically dense tone clusters, as if traversing a contemplative path that takes sudden but wholly welcome turns.
In “Meditative,” Graff once again explores the full range of the instrument, dipping his toes into harmonically ambiguous waters before boldly landing on major tonic chords, resting on them as contemplative islands before embarking again into the emotional sea—a striking aural metaphor for the difficult yet rewarding nature of self-reflection.
As an album, Trips for Piano is a strikingly unfettered exploration into one’s secret inner life—that deep, holy, sometimes intimidating place we all have at our disposal, but which few of us so openly access—faithfully translated via what I can only imagine is Graff’s daily commitment of synching his soul and body to make it all happen on such a physically demanding instrument. He clearly reveres the piano, as will many listeners who take the trip he has unlocked from it.
—KM, June 11, 2021
madona tyler leblanc
“Trips for Piano is an extraordinary act of creating a vacation out of a blank page…” [show more]
For me, music is set in context. The where and how and who with all meld with the sound to create the experience of listening. Currently, the Washington D.C. area is sonically full of the cicada song, a distant pervasive drone almost like a far-away siren, almost like a scream. It is with this droning aural backdrop that I experienced Martin Graff’s Trips for Piano, a most welcome journey. Many of us embark on our daily walks—limited by the pandemic’s quarantine, limited in our abilities to connect—just as I set off today, masked still, earbuds in place, already enveloped by cicada sounds, but hoping, still hoping…
Trips for Piano builds a bridge from the domestic road we are familiar with, a Contemporary Classical approach in opening tracks, to relatable human moodiness and murky interior in the nightscape encountered in the track titled “After.” By the time I reached the final stirring tune, “Sonare,” I had been lifted out of the humid swarm surrounding me into a realm constructed by an architect of sound who deeply respects historical foundations but is not afraid to add a waterfall in the living room or a personal affect to the universe. The word ‘sonare’ means to sound, to play, and Martin Graff’s Trips for Piano is just that: the extraordinary act of creating a vacation out of the blank page, an excursion from the mundane drone, and playfulness out of the pandemic.
—MTL, May 26, 2021
STEVEN HERBERT SMITH
“Trips for Piano is an ambitious, full-length set of piano pieces exploring musical moods…” [show more]
I’m glad to hear the recording and see the score of Martin Graff’s Trips for Piano. It’s an ambitious, full-length set of eight piano pieces exploring musical moods in a genre that is not exactly my own (traditional classical), but freely expressive. Full disclosure would add that Marty was my piano student some years ago at Penn State, and I am very pleased by his playing of these pieces, which follow the fully-notated score with precision and a full dynamic range. The style is tonal and the emotional range adheres especially to the calm and peaceful side, with occasional brilliance. It seems to me that the opening, “Prism,” the final piece, “Sonare,” and between those the understated fourth piece, “Meditative,” are the most successful compositions.
—SHS, April 21, 2021
Steven Herbert Smith is a classical pianist and recording artist who has performed throughout the world. He is professor emeritus of piano at Penn State University.