Cyclic Selects: Erik Griswold


Erik Griswold is a composer and pianist originally from San Diego, and now residing in Brisbane. His 2018 album Water Pushes Sand, with the Australian Art Orchestra, was nominated for an Aria Award (Best Jazz Album). The live performances of this album, with a ten-piece big band fused Sichuan melodies and rhythms with modern jazz improvisation, a face changing mask dance and video projections which evoked and abstracted busy urban streetscapes. Aside from the Australian Art Orchestra and the Sichuan musicians, he has collaborated with the likes of Steven Schick, Margaret Leng Tan, Lisa Moore, Ensemble Offspring, Decibel Ensemble, Zephyr String Quartet, Anthony Pateras, Robin Fox, and many others. His music can be heard on Cold Blue, Immediata, Room40, Innova, Sonoluminus, Mode Records, Tall Poppies, Move, and Clocked Out.

He also performs as a soloist and in Clocked Out, an experimental music interarts & intercultural collaborations company he runs with percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson. You can read our review of 2010’s Wide Alley here. His new album, Yokohama Flowers, is released on Lawrence English’s Room40 label. The label suggests that, “Griswold’s compositions remind us that the piano is never truly knowable, or known,” which is a fascinating way to describe his music. With such a unique and versatile approach to music, we felt that this was an opportune time to ask Griswold about the music that moves him. We’d like to present:

A Flower playlist for the southern hemisphere spring by Erik Griswold.

Duke Ellington – Fleurette Africaine
Ellington’s music has spoken to me in every period of my life. He captured the perfect balance of structure and freedom, improvisation and composition. I love thinking about how he would ride across endless highways, touring from dance hall to dance hall, dreaming up his brilliant music. This track from “Money Jungle” features a haunting bass tremolo by Charles Mingus and freeform tom tom textures by Max Roach. There’s an incredibly fragile poetry here.

John Cage / Cathy Berberian – A Flower
Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, his Constructions for percussion, and my personal favorite Credo in Us are all important models for me, and pieces I often go back to. His collection of writings Silence, in particular the “Lecture on Nothing” has blown my mind more than once. I was very lucky to meet him briefly before a Musicircus in Los Angeles, and also to observe him smiling beatifically throughout Janos Negyesy’s performance of Freeman Etudes in San Diego. Here Cathy Berberian captures a plaintive intimacy.

Joni Mitchell – For the Roses
Joni Mitchell’s interlacing of poetry, melody and harmony is magical. She reveals an idea by gradually folding a complex origami of text and music. With each listening there is always more to discover. I love the descending chromatic in this song.

Antonio Carlos Jobim – Stone Flower
Jobim’s twisting and turning chromatic harmonies are endlessly fascinating. Combined with the polyrhythms of Samba & Bossa Nova, they create a sense of floating time. Music in which you can get lost, in a good way.

Charles Mingus – Flowers for a Lady
Like his mentor Duke Ellington, Mingus achieved the perfect balance of freedom and structure, compositional brilliance built around the individual voices of his performers. I love the fact that he would share his compositions with his collaborators aurally.

Laurie Anderson – White Lily
Again it’s the gradual unfolding of the idea, the slow reveal which draws you into the musical poetry of Laurie Anderson. I think it was the Home of the Brave tour that I saw in San Diego, or maybe it was a little later. Whichever show, it was a mind-altering conjunction of thought, text, music, and technology.

Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin – Heliotrope Bouquet
I heard Ragtime for the first time (like most people my age, probably) in the movie “The Sting.” And then was lucky, still as a kid, to hear Cecil Lytle playing Joplin Rags in recital. Though Joplin may have been a purist, I love what the early jazz pianists like Jelly Roll Morton & James P. Johnson did with his pieces. This particular recording is from the piano roll. Very stiff, but creates a kind of link with that era, I think.

Talking Heads / Caetano Veloso – Nothing but Flowers
This version got my family through a road trip from Brisbane to Adelaide. That’s a lot of kangaroos. I too, dream of chocolate chip cookies.

Erik Satie / Aldo Ciccolini – Sonneries a la Rose-Croix
I’ve been a Satie fan since I found a book of sheet music and a biography in a university bookstore when I was about 14. I am in awe of his labyrinthine harmonies (with their impenetrable double sharps), his incredibly complex yet utterly simple phrase structures, and his delightfully elliptical titles and expressive markings (play with the tip of your thought). Ciccolini’s was probably the first recording I heard of Satie, but really it’s better just to get the sheet music and play it on the piano if you can.

Bach / Glenn Gould – C Major Prelude
Ok, I’m disregarding the flower theme for this one, but Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I play through a few of these as often as I can, as a meditation, to focus my mind. Increasingly necessary, these days…

You can find Yokohama Flowers here.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.