Archive for July, 2009

Review from Piano-Heaven by Stephen Cairns

Set on a Hill

Set on a Hill

It’s the first, and I must say it certainly sets a precedent! I’m very excited to announce the the first review for Set on a Hill was recently posted on Piano-Heaven‘s website (click the name to go to the link if you would like). Mr. Cairns has a beautiful way worth words, and a scary sense of perception of one’s music. Uncanny even. So, I could not have been in a more respectable set of hands for my first review. It’s posted below. Please visit Piano-Heaven and let them know how much you appreciate their support for solo piano music. There are so many wonderful artist and this is definitely a wonderful place to find them!

To the casual browser in a music store, the cover to ‘Set on a Hill’ by Chad Lawson might suggest a blues album could be contained within. Certainly, the image of the composer surrounded by traffic in the middle of a busy American street (with not a hill in sight) offers little hint to the serenity of the music to be found on this wonderful gem of a CD.

Produced by renowned Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman- ensuring first class production values- the omens looked good from the onset. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the variety and consistent high standard found throughout this CD.

It opens with ‘Will’. One might assume this is dedicated to the producer of the album as it is clear that Chad Lawson holds the music-maestro in high esteem. However, the title actually refers to an individual’s will- that is, what it is inside each and everyone of us that controls what we do and do not do. It is very much up to the individual listener to conjure up their own images for this piece, but I was struck by the slow tempo maintained for the first six minutes. Could this be the reflective side in each of us that consciously or subconsciously considers past experiences to guide our future paths? Minimalist in style, this piece is incredibly relaxing. At six minutes, the tempo changes and I love the flurry of notes that suggests spontaneity- living for the moment. The piece soon returns to its gentler original form. I adore this track, and am impressed by the unhurried way in which the story unfolds. The piece lasts approximately nine minutes, giving the composer time to tell the story and the listener the opportunity to immerse themselves in the music.

‘Sojurn’ is more upbeat. Reminding me a little of the style of Wayne Gratz, the track is a melodic treat from start to finish. This was one of the first pieces the composer wrote when he decided to record the album- the start of an incredible musical journey.

The story behind Track 3, ‘Promise Made on Signal Mountain’ is as touching as the music itself. The composer met his wife’s Grandfather only once before his passing- at their home at the foot of Signal Mountain in Tennessee. Together, the two sat by the fire where the elderly gentleman asked only one thing of Chad; that he take good care of his grand-daughter- something he was only too pleased to do. Chad’s wife, Barbara, and her grandfather enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship, and to this day he regards it as an honour that he was accepted into the family. Chad explains how his wife’s grandmother (known as Grams) is beautiful, generous and very alert, and that each time he sees her, he is reminded of the promise made that evening. This composition is especially beautiful and somehow manages to do justice to that special moment. This is my favourite track on a CD packed with highlights.

‘Change of Season’ is a track that nearly never was! The composer played around with the piece on a number of occasions, feeling that it was ‘out of place’ on the album. Eventually, he hit upon a version that more suited the tranquil nature of the CD, and ironically perhaps, it remains one of many highlights after repeated listens! It’s a curious track. From the onset, it seems to tell a story, asking lots of questions along the way. It’s engaging, relaxing and perfect chill-out material.

‘Set on a Hill’ is a thought-provoking piece, sometimes moody, sometimes uplifting, hinting perhaps of other musical genres. As the composer himself explains, “Set on a Hill was never intended to be the album’s title, but after hitting the last note, I knew it encompassed exactly what I wanted to say with this project.” It is one of those pieces where the listener should pour themselves their favourite drink, sit back and let the music do its work.

Track 6, ‘Reflections’ is regarded by the composer to be the least improvised piece of the entire album, expressing a wish for the finished product to be “clean in its presentation”. The end result is a short, delightful and simple melody; another most pleasing piece to the ear.

‘She Walks in Beauty (The Wedding Song)’, as the title would suggest, is the piece to which Chad’s then to-be wife walked down the aisle. This composition is every bit as gorgeous and touching as the special moment which it represented. Chad regards it as an honour to have written all the music for the wedding of Barbara and himself, and reveals that the original form of the composition included the accompaniment of a violin. He intends to release this version later in the year.

The penultimate track of the CD is entitled ‘Passing Country’ and was inspired by the breathtaking scenery that Chad witnessed as he travelled through Spain at night. “It was such a beautiful drive,” reminisces Chad, and the fond memories of that evening are reflected in this gentle and heavenly composition.

‘A Goldfish Named George’ is a title that will not grace too many CD track lists, but here it is closing this outstanding album. I thought at first the composer was dedicating the final piece to a beloved pet, but this is not the case! In fact, Chad was apparently watching an old Audrey Hepburn film (the title of which he is keeping close to his chest) and, in a slightly surreal moment, imagined George the Goldfish falling in love with another goldfish. Chad puts this, er, original thought down to his British humour- “I have a silly personality!” As a British person myself, I agree this is entirely plausible, or alternatively, it might have something to do with what is on the table on the back cover!!! Either way, it is fun way to close a remarkable CD, with little flourishes capturing the fish’s more energetic moments.

I mentioned earlier about the impressive variety within the CD, whilst still maintaining an impeccably high standard throughout and never deviating from a relaxing and rewarding listening experience. This is reflected in the number of composers that spring to mind when listening to this CD. Ludovico Einaudi, Wayne Gratz, Michael Gettel, Stephan Moccio and Michael Jones are just some of the stellar artists that spring to mind. Chad Lawson is in great company.

It is hoped to conduct a Piano-Heaven interview with Chad over the Summer. His story reminds me of Stephan Moccio’s, who has written music for many top-name artists, including Céline Dion, but felt a calling to perhaps get back to his roots and release his own album. Chad has toured the world with Julio Iglesias, and is part of a very successful jazz-band, but he too has felt a calling. From the listener’s perspective, this is a very good thing, as Chad Lawson has an undisputed gift with the piano, and has created a stunning album from start to finish. No wonder it has been nominated for Whisperings’ ‘Album of the Year’.

Chad’s sense of humour comes through clearly in his Biographical notes on his web-site. Perhaps, on reflection, I have been reading too much into the album’s cover….

I cannot praise this CD highly enough. Any fan of relaxing, melodic piano music should love this album. I give ‘Set on a Hill’ my highest recommendation. “This is some of the best music I’ve heard in years,” proclaims Will Ackerman.

It is hard to disagree.

S.C.

Review by Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com

Set On a Hill is Chad Lawson’s debut solo piano CD, but Chad is no newcomer to the music industry. A session and back-up musician as well as the lead in his own jazz trio, he has scored film and television soundtracks and has toured the world with Julio Iglesias. It was during a concert with Iglesias that Lawson had the epiphany that he needed to get back to writing his own music and to making the solo piano CD he had always wanted to do. Many pianist/composers are content with composing music that will ultimately end up as background or mood music, but Chad Lawson’s music, while gentle and laid-back, was composed for more focused listening. Don’t get me wrong – this is wonderful music for the quiet moments in life whether alone or shared – but do yourself a favor and take some time to listen to this CD with closed eyes and no distractions. Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman, this is one of the few piano CDs he has done that is strictly solo piano. The open spaces are almost as important as the notes in Lawson’s music, and I can’t imagine any of these nine pieces as anything but solo piano.

Set On a Hill begins with “Will,” an open, roomy piece that starts with a single repeated note that evolves into a simple melody played with one hand in the treble clef. That melodic theme recurs throughout the piece in a kind of theme and variations form that is completely unbound by rules or requirements. It develops slowly and organically, and I suspect is mostly improvised. It’s a gentle and subtle invitation to settle down and listen to some extraordinary music. “Sojourn” conveys a quiet sense of anticipation and optimism with a rhythmic left hand and flowing melody. My favorite track on this excellent album is “Change of Season,” a moody minor-key piece that expresses melancholy, solitude, loneliness, reflection, and maybe acceptance near the end. This one makes my fingers ache! Sheet music??? The title track has a very graceful, lyrical feel and a sense of warm contentment. “She Walks in Beauty (The Wedding Song)” is the music Lawson composed for his wedding. Serious without any hint of heaviness, it is composed in an elegant, minimalistic style that must have been stunning in a wedding setting. The whimsically-titled “A Goldfish Named George” depicts the changing pace of fish swimming and how hypnotic it can be to watch them. It’s a gorgeous piece that leaves the listener wanting more.

Set On a Hill is generating a lot of buzz, and has already been nominated as Album of the Year by Whisperings Solo Piano Radio, so check it out for yourself. It is available from http://www.chadlawson.com, Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/4/09

The Day It All Went Right

Whisperings Radio

Whisperings Radio

July 1st, 2009. To me, this was the day everything went right.  I awake at 6:45 this morning to the alarm on my blackberry (I know, it’s a CrackBerry.  I’m an addict to technology).  Laying in bed, trying to come to, I generally scroll through the emails, tweets & then if I’m really, REALLY procrastinating, I’ll check out the ole Facebook too.

Much to my surprise, my amazement, my astonishment! an email saying that I had been selected as part of the incredible roster of pianist on Whisperings Solo Piano Radio.  David Lanz, David Nevue, Wayne Gratz, I mean C’MON! And THEN, AND THEN I get notice that my new album Set on a Hill was nominated for album of the year!! WHAT! This is before my feet have even hit the floor! And it’s a probably good thing because I would have had to promptly sit down after reading that!

I then proceed with my morning run (with the pooch, Golden Retriever) and then head to a recording session to play on a GREAT singer/songwriter’s new album Jeremy Current.  The guy is killin’! His voice is JUST incredible.  Sitting next to him on the sofa and listening to him, it was very surreal.  No mic, no fancy tricks, nothing.  Just raw voice.  The session goes GREAT (he’s a great guy to work with, do keep your eye out for him in the following months).

And THEN as we’re wrapping the session, I get an email (thank you Mr. Blackberry) from a music supervisor friend of mine at a large, large movie company in a disclosed location.  He needed a loose ‘Bill Evans sound-alike’ of Round Midnight.  A jazz standard.  But needed it to be kind of like Bill Evans, except just kinda dirty, gritty, not really pretty.  And he needed it NOW! I RUSHED over to the piano as the engineer was pulling up a new session and recorded this first take on the fly.  Only because he needed it so quick.

At the upright piano.  This was the first take, the ONLY take.  Honestly, from the moment I got the email to the moment HE got my email back, was probably 7 minutes flat. Give or take half a second on either side you prefer. It was just a blast to try to be the first one that responded out of the other 30 that got the email.  There’s mistakes, I wasn’t trying to be perfect.  A cross of Bill & Monk to a degree.  Lord knows I would never try to imitate them.  They’re masters.  But, this is what came out.  So, why not share it!?! –> Round Midnight <–Click here if you want to hear it.  I mean, you don’t HAVE to if you don’t WANT to. No idea if it’ll ever be used.  It really matters not.  I just had a blast with the quick experience.

And then (finally) the house that my wife & I have wanted to rent didn’t want our dog (a big ole mean Golden Retriever.  We all know how vicious those dogs are! Lol).  So, I made one more pley and they AGREED! C’MON! I was just grateful for all of the amazing opportunities that I had been blessed with that day.  It’s like God was saying “you know, I love you and today is going to be your day.  Even though I made it.” and He did.  God just blessed me so richly today it was amazing.  I just had to share it. Tomorrow……who knows.  I think I’ll go to bed early just to see!

cheers

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