Being born into a famous family can be a blessing or a curse. For Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of classical composition titan Sergei, the surname can lead to both increased attention and unfair expectations. Fortunately, the handle has been no hindrance. Hot on the heels of his excellent 2009 release, Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, the hip modern composer, DJ and Nonclassical label founder returns with Piano Book No. 1, a compelling collaboration with Ukrainian pianist GéNIA, for whom the scores were written.
We wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the album sequence follows the chronology of the two years Prokofiev and GéNIA undertook to workshop the material: The early tracks circuitously meander before the affair evolves into fully developed aural environments. “Rockaby” dons a Satie-like dreaminess—and shares a similar harmonic language—but whereas the Frenchman’s simplicity is enchanting, Prokofiev’s is flatter, taking on a film-score quality. It’s a momentary stall on an otherwise magnetic record. Two tracks later, “Tough Moves” is no misnomer, with near-oppressive hammering in the left hand and insistent turns in the right, steering the album toward the 35-year-old’s more convincing writing.
“Clock Watt” sets melody atop evil-clown-music lines playing like hyper-romanticized Shostakovich. GéNIA taps at her most persuasive on “Black Sauce,” the morass of dark bass and thick, unctuous pacing seeming to drip from her fingers.
Despite all his work with contemporary electronics, Londoner Prokofiev penned Piano Book as an homage to the days of the piano, rather than the TV, as entertainment. If Prokofiev and GéNIA are the dinner guests, we’ll trade the plasma screen for a baby grand.