Like painters of the Impressionist school, contemporary composer/pianists use their senses, imaginations and tools to create, with a splash of color here and a meaningful dash of light there, music with a wondrous capacity for conveying scenes, dreams and passions. Here are three recent examples:
MICHAEL GETTEL; "The Key" (Narada Equinox ND-63027). * * *In a half-dozen albums, Michael Gettel has specialized in piano portraits of specific locales - from the Northwest coast in "San Juan Suite" to the desert Southwest in "Skywatching." With "The Key," he turns thematically from the landscape (and seascape) to places in the heart and in memory.
The pianist sees experiences and insights - personal and shared - as "keys," when examined, to understanding who we are as individuals. "Some of our greatest satisfactions lie not in counting the number of doors we walk through, but in understanding how to handle the keys," reads a thought in the liner notes.
Gettel, therefore, evokes moments and moods in songs with titles like "Breaking the Silence," "When Hearts Collide," "Light a Candle" and "The Awakening." The elegant, unforced melodies range from introspective and serene to rhythmic and light-jazzy. Gettel's warm piano is usually in the foreground, but featured soloists join him on various tracks. These include electric guitarist Paul Speer, best known for his work with pianist David Lanz; wind player Nancy Rumbel, and percussionist Dan Chase. His primary collaborator, however, is Randy Sherwood, who performs on acoustic guitar and whose generally wordless vocals float through album, lightly coloring Gettel's most meditative collection to date.
JOHN BOSWELL; "The Painter" (Hearts of Space HS11041-2). * * * 1/2
The cover art for John Boswell's "The Painter" is a wash of color, a computer-processed suggestion of a lush, flower-dappled scene by John Derry. The painting isn't false advertising: It perfectly illustrates the garden of solo-piano impressions inside.
"The Painter" is actually a 6-year-old album, originally released on the now-defunct Scarlet Records. Boswell has since found a home on the Hearts of Space label, for which he has recorded the "Festival of the Heart" holiday collection and the instrumental album "Count Me In." Making "The Painter" broadly available is a service indeed.
"I've composed the music on the recording by visualizing a picture or scene in my mind," Boswell explains in brief notes. "By focusing on the feelings those images bring and improvising on them, I'm able to create a composition in much the same way a painter fills a canvas."
His dozen melodies are, with few exceptions, gentle, peaceful and very accessible impressionistic tone poems. "Child's Eyes" and "Mafu" are graceful in their spare simplicity. "Mona Claire" early evinces a folk lilt that evolves but never disappears. "London: 1892/Robert Adrian Edwards/
The Painter, Part 1" bears an ungainly title, but the pretty song itself is spritely and engaging. A few dramatic themes, like "The Path," "Pleiades" and the lively conclusion, "Frontiers," build and ripple with intensity but do not submerge the overall Sunday-morning idyll that is "The Painter."
MICHAEL JONES; "Air Born" (Narada Lotus ND-61042). * * *
The distinctive music of Canadian Michael Jones is often described as impressionistic and seemingly spontaneous. His latest collection, "Air Born," helps explain why this is so.
Jones, one of the trailblazers of contemporary piano, seems to sit before the ivories with a core idea and extemporaneously pour forth a stream of melody. In fact, he comments on his surrender to inspiration in comments accompanying "Air Born." "When I play from this place," he writes, "I am always surprised by my own work. I can put aside any plan and have faith that whatever note I am playing will prepare me for the next step."
His new solo-piano album (its appealing predecessor, "Morning in Medonte," was performed with a wind and string ensemble) is almost 77 minutes long but encompasses only four tracks. All reflect airy qualities suggested by the album's name, in both their individual titles and music: "Air Born," "Summer in Chimo," "Lark in the Clear Air," "Voices in the Wind." Each is dreamy, romantic, reflective, nostalgic. The themes themselves are transient, as diaphanous as dewdrop-dotted webs in the garden, and bring to mind both folk and classical roots (Debussy, for instance).
The melodies may be too wandering, and yes, insubstantial, for certain tastes, but others will find something soothing and liberating in these performances. "Air Born" is quintessential Michael Jones.