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LIVE: Kelly Moran – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 21/04/2024

Sunday night at the Howard Assembly Room. It is always a special time and place. And the appearance here tonight by the innovative New York pianist, producer, and composer Kelly Moran adds to that sense of occasion.

Three weeks ago Kelly Moran released Moves in the Field, her first solo studio album in six years. And three nights ago Moran embarked upon her inaugural tour of Europe when she appeared in Berlin. This evening’s performance in Leeds is one of only four dates she will play in the UK on this tour, yet further testament to the HAR’s continuing reputation in attracting high-calibre transformative artists to this esteemed concert space.

Moves in the Field takes its title from a term that is given to elements of figure skating, emphasising posture, carriage, flow, power, and speed. Right throughout this astonishing concert, these skills are equally apparent in the exquisite patterns that Kelly Moran creates through her playing. To that list of attributes, you could easily add elegance, intricacy, emotional expression, and bold experimentation.

Moves in the Field was created during the isolation of lockdown after the Yamaha company loaned Kelly Moran a Disklavier, a modern, technologically advanced version of the player piano. Moran began to use the Disklavier as her duet partner and as she explained in a press release for the album “I began to explore all the different ways I could utilise this instrument to merge its inhuman capabilities with my own playing. The Disklavier allowed me to record multiple layers of my playing so I could create music on the piano that would require more fingers or greater endurance than I physically have – like chords that had more than 10 notes in them, or chords that were spaced out farther than my hands could stretch.”

This evening,  Kelly Moran plays in their entirety the 10 instrumental piano pieces that comprise Moves in the Field and in the exact sequence in which they appear on the record. She therefore opens with ‘Butterfly Phase’ the album’s lead single which was released in February alongside a beautifully choreographed video featuring a single ice skater moving gracefully across the great expanse of an empty rink. That video may not be here tonight but projected onto a huge screen positioned behind Kelly Moran and her Steinway piano instead is a filmed recording of the Disklavier as it appears as her digital accompanist. The fusion of sound and vision is utterly mesmerising.

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Informed by personal tragedy, loss, and a sustained period of creative uncertainty, Moves in the Field is an open, honest and ultimately human expression of love.  It is an exploration of musical possibilities, an almost neo-classical piece of work that evokes memories of the French composer and pianist Eric Satie and American avant-gardist John Cage’s use of prepared piano. Here Moran’s fingers move effortlessly across the keys with grace and poise to produce a warm aesthetic sound.

At the conclusion of Moves in the Field, Kelly Moran returns to the microphone stand at the front of the stage to express her dissatisfaction and despair as an American and as a performing artist at her country’s continuing involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Free Gaza, Free Palestine, Free occupation,” she urges to loud applause inside the auditorium.

Once more seated at her piano, Kelly Moran proceeds to then play the title track from last year’s Vesela EP. Featured on that record is ‘Medusa (Variations on a theme by Sakamoto)’, Moran’s expansion of a short composition by the hugely influential musician Ryuichi Sakamoto that he had originally created for an augmented reality art exhibit.

Kelly Moran had been commissioned to expand upon Ryuichi Sakamoto’s initial work so it therefore seems entirely fitting that she should now conclude this extraordinary concert by performing three of the pioneering Japanese composer’s pieces. She ends with a stunning reading of ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, originally recorded for the 1983 film of the same name and added even greater poignancy here tonight given Sakamoto’s passing last March at the age of 71.

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Photos: Simon Godley

More photos of Kelly Moran at Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.