LATE NIGHT SESSIONS

London, 2021

Belle Chen is a London-based composer and pianist whose works have gained more and more attention over the past few years, and for very good reasons. With — soon to be — seven solo projects under her name, and many other side projects, Chen has created a body of work which blends traditional and modern, elegance and interest. It is her latest venture which is the subject of this review, and what a venture it is. A direct consequence of the pandemic lockdown, when virtual relationships took over physical, the Late Night Sessions compromises three EPs and albums — At Home, The Storyteller, and the soon to be released New Dawn —, altogether over twenty pieces, which were released weekly over two years; an opportunity for Chen to exchange with her audience. Her intentions are therefore dual; to connect with the listeners and to show her creative process, giving an opportunity to intimately see behind the curtains. Although created late at night, none of the pieces carry a nocturnal or somehow sombre qualitative element. Actually, most of the pieces of the Late Night Sessions are quite bright, strangely evocative and boiling with optimism. 

 

There is a lot happening in the Late Night Sessions to cover it all in one writing; each project would benefit from a review of its own. I shall therefore skim over some of the elements that I have found to be captivating, particular or truly original to Chen’s work. 

The Late Night Sessions first impresses by the diversity of its content. From, what seems to be Chen’s core style; impressionism — “Morning Post-Rain” —, at times rather modern — “Grandfather’s Day” — and almost minimalistic “You See” or “Papaya Tree: Part 1”. Some pieces are more romantic and traditional in form — “Waltz for Antonin” —, and others are lighter in style — “Leron Leron Sinta”. 

This diversity in the music is also reflected in Chen’s influences; “Es Lilin” is a traditional Indonesian piece, and some of these Asian flavours — the pentatonic scale for instance — are present throughout the project. “Quasi Danzon” seems to be paying homage to Spanish and French music of the early 20th Century. 

While it is a fully composed project, some of the pieces are improvised, such as  “Improvisation: What Happens Next''. Others are slightly more adventurous, such as “Telephone” or the collages of sounds and field recordings of “The Time-Travelling Siren”. Chen explores the entire range and shades of the keyboard; from the grand piano to prepared piano in “Leaving Now” and the melodica in “Reset”. Within the series of the Late Night Sessions, she creates smaller collections of works such as “Three Short Scenes” or “Let Me Tell You a Story” and “I Just Wanted to Tell You” which seem to relate to each other, at least in their intentions. With these three EPs and albums, one can hear a sense of freshness, novelty and a wish for ideas and development, and even narrative— “At the Moment, I Felt”. Eventually, there are pieces that are simply beautiful, such as “Elegy”. 

It is refreshing to hear music which does not conform to any of the stylistic requirements of our modern times — particularly when it comes to piano music — and goes its own way while keeping the listener captivated. 

 

The Late Night Sessions is quite a body of work; and it is enjoyable to witness a composer approaching her work in this manner. In the current context of the music creative industry, many composers focus on composing and releasing spontaneously; independent and often unrelated pieces. Chen, on the other hand and through these EPs and albums, releases a collection of pieces divided in three projects all somehow connected, yet independent and full of diversity, ideas and approaches. I often find that there is a correlation between the music and the human being; the personality, the character and the gender of the individual. In the case of Chen’s work, it is intellectual, yet approachable, elegant, sweet and tender feminine music. All qualities to the music which Chen seems to bring effortlessly.