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Summer Suite, Vol 1 Reviewed by Bill Binkelman

Summer Suite, Vol 1  – Chad Lawson (piano) & Jim Brock (percussion)

Sometimes a recording comes along, accompanied by a description in a press release, setting a certain expectation in the mind of a reviewer. When I read that Summer Suite was, more or less, a series of live-in-the-studio improvisations between pianist Chad Lawson and percussionist Jim Brock, I was skeptical. I imagined the results would be either avant garde-ish noodling or just the opposite, i.e. mainstream tripe for which “vanilla” would be an exaggeration. I was, unexpectedly, thoroughly surprised and summarily delighted with this wonderful maxi-EP (32 minutes) when I played it the first time. Here was music that was both adventurous and intriguing, challenging the listener to “keep up” yet wholly listenable as mere entertainment. This being Lawson’s CD more than Brock (although the latter’s contributions cannot be over-stated), the real tip of the hat needs to go to Lawson, whose playing is all over the map in the best possible sense, with changes in mood, time signature, tempo, intensity and style flying by at a virtuoso’s pace.

The CD opens with the only “titled” track, the energetic Heart of a Lion, a speedfest of melody and rhythm that will get your blood racing if you are fan of fast tempo piano playing. The actual “Summer Suite” (comprised of nine tracks featuring running times from 4:02 to 1:14) follows, unfolding like a multi-colored flower unfurling its pedals to the sun. Part I offers a reflective, impressionistic piece which is sans percussion for the most part. Each successive part of the “Suite” flows into the next uninterrupted (the transitions are sonically invisible, though, so leap-frogging over successive tracks will not prove jarring). Part II picks up the pace, but only at times, with a more pronounced sprinkling of percussion, such as hand drums (I think I hear a djembe) and cymbals. Note that since this is a non-overdub recording, and there is only the one percussionist, you will not hear three types of percussion at once. Knowing this ahead of hearing it, I suspected the singular percussion would not prove “interesting” enough, but I was dead wrong. Brock always grabs just the right instrument to color Lawson’s lead melodies with an entertaining wrinkle, a helping of drama and impetus, or a flavorful embellishment. While I tend to toss around the term “simpatico” in my duo/ensemble recording reviews, when you take into account the improvised nature of Summer Suite, you can’t help but be mighty impressed at how the two artists never “step on each other.” When I read on Lawson’s website that the two had never previously played together at all, I was even more blown away at what the two had wrought on this recording.

As you listen to the other parts of “Summer Suite,” you should be able to discern the over-riding musical theme that Lawson has woven into the tracks, a theme which helps unify the recording as a cohesive whole, not just a bundle of separate, albeit like-minded, pieces. Whether one favors the subtle melancholy of Part VI, the wistful introspection of Part IV, or the upbeat cheer on the closing Part IX, Summer Suite is an enchanting listening experience. It was a smart move to have the tracks meld into one another, and the 32 minute duration seems to fly by in an instant, which is a true testament to just how good the music actually is.

Chad Lawson plans on releasing three more “seasonal” recordings, teaming with a different accompanist for each one. I am eager to hear what this promising and talented pianist has in store for “autumn,” “winter” and “spring.” I’ve never been a fan of all four seasons (living in Minnesota), but I may have to change my mind in that regard!

Rating: Excellent Excellent
– reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/8/2010
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Summer Suite, Vol 1 named Best of 2010

 

I am honored to say that Summer Suite, Vol 1 was named Best of 2010 by Bill Binkelman of the Zone Music Reporter (formerly newagereporter.com).  Mr. Binkelman is a highly regarded music appreciator and his nod in my direction is one that a value with the utmost appreciation.  Amongst the list of today’s finest New Age/Modern Classical musicians including Grammy Nominated artists, I find myself in a great company.  Genuinely honored.  To see the entire post click here.

Autumn Suite Reviewed

The ever “don’t stop until you drop and even then there’s still so much you can do” Kathy Parsons of MainlyPiano.com has reviewed Autumn Suite, Vol 1 (Troy Conn – Guitar & Chad Lawson – Piano).  You can read the review below OR feel free to fancy your fingers to MainlyPiano.com <—-

Details of said recording will be appearing in the coming days.  In the midst of  a newborn at our home (healthy baby boy) we’re also closing on a house in a matter of days.  I mean, if one is to go completely mad, why not do it all at once…right?   Stay tuned.  For the behind the scenes, not for the madness.  Well.


Autumn Suite, Volume 1 

Chad Lawson
2010 / Hillset Records
36.3 minutes

Autumn Suite, Volume 1 is the second in a series of improvisational duet albums from pianist Chad Lawson. This time, Lawson teamed up with guitarist Troy Conn. The EP is divided into three tracks that range from just under eight minutes to almost eighteen, and each is titled “Autumn Suite I II or III.” On their page on CD Baby, it states that they “steal the playbook from Evil Knievel and take every risk they could come across.” It would be fun to have more information about the process, but the two artists let the music speak for itself. I have to give Chad Lawson a lot of credit for not allowing himself to get too comfortable with the success of his award-winning “Set On a Hill,” which was more composed and melodic. Both Summer Suite and Autumn Suite are much edgier and more experimental, taking a chances and being in the moment with the music.

I LOVE “Autumn Suite I,” which begins with a Spanish/classical guitar-sounding intro by Troy Conn. He ends with a somewhat mysterious twist that Lawson picks up with a series of beautiful rolling broken chords on the piano. Lawson suggests a melody that continues in a Spanish style, and Conn develops it as Lawson accompanies him with a flowing piano. The interplay is achingly beautiful, and it’s simply amazing that this piece is an improvisation. “Autumn Suite II” begins with the piano, softly setting the tone and then introducing a single note pattern that the guitar picks up on. Lawson continues to improvise to this steady repeating note/rhythm. The pattern evolves into a repeated chord that both artists riff on, sometimes only varying the dynamics. As this very experimental piece goes along, the developmental changes are subtle and may be too repetitive for some ears. About 12 1/2 minutes into the piece, there is a muffled dialog in the background, but I can’t understand any of the words. Shortly after that, Lawson plays a series of slow chords and goes into a different direction with the piece as it becomes more rhythmic and upbeat, ending with slow chords as it fades out. “Autumn Suite III” begins with slow chords that create a very subdued mood. The first half of the  improvisation continues in a gentle, soft-spoken style that is elegant and graceful. About halfway into the piece, Lawson injects a livelier beat with rolling chords as Conn picks out a melody on electric guitar. During the final minute, Lawson returns to his slow, lovely chords and fades out.

Autumn Suite, Volume 1 is a fascinating study of the creative dynamics between two artists as well as the amazing musicality that can result from this sort of collaboration. It is available from www.chadlawson.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Kathy Parsons

MainlyPiano.com

11/13/10

Summer Suite, Vol 1 Review by Kathy Parsons

If anyone has listened to more solo piano albums than you, I’d place a $20 dollar bill on it being Kathy Parsons of MainlyPiano.com (with the exception of David Nevue, Whisperings Solo Piano Radio.  I’d still give him a $20 if he asked for it.  But knowing him, he’s far too polite to ask).    Her site MainlyPiano.com has become the home of every pianist and she has been a cavalier in spreading the gospel of beautiful music from the 4 corners of the globe.  I couldn’t be more honored when I read her words about the Summer Suite, Vol 1 EP.  Please visit MainlyPiano.com and drop her a friendly “Hello & thank you” for a job exceedingly well done.  I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.

Summer Suite /Volume 1

Chad Lawson

Hillset Records

31.3 minutes

It’s always interesting to discover things in our own and other people’s lives that were  simply meant to be. One such occurrence appears to be the making of Chad Lawson’s new release, Summer Suite, Volume 1. On Chad’s birthday in late March, he had a call from a friend who wanted to test a new local recording studio and asked if he was interested in coming along to play. Chad had been thinking about doing an album with solo piano and percussion, so he called percussionist Jim Brock about doing a trial run to see if they could make it work. The two artists hadn’t played together in this format, so they basically turned on the recorder and “went for it.” They played through an idea for the main theme and then improvised from there. “Summer Suite” is a continuous 25-minute improvisation and the only edit/overdub is where Jim Brock went back and recorded one additional track to color what he had done previously in the Suite. There are nine tracks designated in the Suite (plus a separate piece at the beginning of the album), but there are no stops between the tracks – the implied divisions are simply there to make navigation easier to find specific parts of the piece. Summer Suite is quite different from Chad’s award-winning Set On A Hill in that it is more jazz-oriented and free. Chad is so pleased with the results that he plans to do a series of albums featuring himself with various other artists – a very exciting proposition! What is not different from Set On a Hill is that this is music that is meant to be listened to, not relegated to background music. The music is more than enjoyable, but it is also amazing to realize that it just poured out of two artists with very little preparation.

The album begins with “Heart of a Lion,” a joyous, uptempo piece that mixes dancing piano fingers with infectious rhythms. Chad Lawson is absolutely brilliant on this one! The next nine “tracks” make up “Summer Suite,” and, as I said, there are no breaks between the tracks. The music ranges from quiet and reflective to energetic and complex – sometimes melodic, sometimes repetitive, always interesting and inspiring. Percussion includes hand claps, ocean sounds, and many other instruments that enhance the piano rather than taking center stage.

It is my humble opinion that Chad Lawson’s little musical experiment succeeded incredibly well! He is asking an exceptionally reasonable price for this EP and download, so check it out! It is currently available from Amazon, CD  Baby and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

MainlyPiano.com

6/14/10

Summer Suite, Vol 1 – Reviews New Age

How humbled I was to open an email containing the first official review of Summer Suite, Vol 1 by ReviewsNewAge.com. This EP was recorded entirely in improvised fashion, using only the piano and percussion. Not other sound effects, edits or ‘punch-ins’ were used in the recording. The only “additive” was the percussionist Jim Brock recording an additional pass to what he had already inked to add more color.

I think you will see that the fine people at Reviews New Age caught exactly what Jim & I were trying to do; explore, create and patiently await what happened around the next corner of every passage.

Summer Suite, Vol 1

Chad Lawson
Hillset Records
2010
31.3 minutes

One of the most pleasant surprises this year 2010 is released the second album by pianist Chad Lawson, Summer Suite, Vol 1. A work consisting of ten pieces improvised and recorded in situ, one extensive piece and nine more shorter, called suites. Summer Suite, Vol 1 is the first CD which will open a series of works inspired by each season and that Chad will be surrounded by great musicians to accompany his fascinating piano. For this first publication, Chad wanted to have the assistance of the excellent percussionist Jim Brock, whose percussion provides an amazing warmth to each piece, as well as inspiring to Chad with the delicate rhythm to improvise each of the ten themes of this album.

The opening theme, over six minutes, is titled “Heart of a Lion.” The Jim’s percussion opens the theme, waiting for the improvised melody that Chad will play at piano. A simply surprisingly melody from the beginning is powerful and energetic shows. Fast and subtle touches of piano join the rhythmic percussion of Jim. It is amazing how both artists understand perfectly, following an incredible conversation. An amazing start, Wow!.

The sound of the sea and some songs of birds introduced to “Summer Suite – I”, a piece calmer than the previous one, in which Jim’s percussion is almost non-existent, almost negligible, as few accompanies with furtive hit hat smooth and quiet piano chords that draws Chad. With a relaxing and hypnotic first part, the piece is accelerated, but not excessively so as not to break the perfect stillness and ambient created. An ideal track for rest or for contemplation of a beautiful sunset to the sea. Sublime!.

In contrast to previous tracks in “Summer Suite – II”, the piano opens the piece. The delicate piano and percussion music give life to an upbeat and warm surrounding to the listener, while Chad’s piano introduces the main melody of the song that opens the album. In this case, variations of “Heart Of A Lion” are intimate. One piece with an amazing sense of liberation!.

In “Summer Suite – III” can be distinguished in its inception the percussion Jim’s and some palms that accompany the piano. One piece at a life-giving a rhythm percussion and that joins a delicate piano. The second part shows a quiet melody, in which only the piano is the star, using a succeeded chords that convey a unique strength.

Again, the birds make a brief appearance in “Summer Suite – IV,” while Chad plays a continuous alternation of notes remains unchanged until the end and Jim makes a roll, almost negligible. In this case, the melody is haunting and hypnotic, and has no major variations. Jim’s percussion rarely appears, allowing this piece make in the listener a soothing and peaceful feeling of comfort.

“Summer Suite – V” shows a strong start and optimistic. With joy Chad and Jim played a happy tune and positive, which slowly is becoming sad with a final upset. A perfect piece for the rest!. I love it.

“Summer Suite – VI” is passionate, the melody that draws the piano in the beginning is formal and convincing, while Jim goes with soft touches of percussion. A perfect piece to enjoy the sight of a beautiful stage. Another of my favourites!.

“Summer Suite – VII” is synonymous with energy and strength. The melody is powerful, fast. A perfect union between percussion and strings that leave you breathless. The tandem of Jim and Chad is spectacular, both created in perfect harmony this interesting piece that bears some resemblance to the touch of George Winston. It is simply amazing!. My favourite without a doubt!. Wow!.

“Summer Suite – VIII” is the calm after the storm. A melody with a more relaxed and romantic. A track that calls for peace, where the percussion plays a minor role, appearing on a few occasions to make subtle roll for piano. A piece appropriate to enjoy pleasant company. Pure delicacy!.

“Summer Suite – IX” is brief but intense. With joy becomes a familiar and catchy melody that we heard before and which serves to conclude this wonderful and exciting work. Amazing end!.

Summer Suite, Vol 1 is just unbelievable. An improvised album that has a great freshness and where Jim’s percussion and piano Chad can understand, providing a perfect connection in each track. Again, Chad takes advantage of the wide range of possibilities that shows him the New Age style, without restrictions or limits, giving life to an incredible job, halfway between the Jazz and New Music. Fascinating and VERY highly recommended!

New Age Retailer

I am happy to announce that renowned music reviewer, Bill Binkelman, took the time to listen to Set on a Hill and had some very favorable things to say.  With his expertise of listening, I take not a vowel or consonant for granted!  This is in the March issue of New Age Retailer Magazine!

Set on a Hill

One of the latest releases from Imaginary Road studios, Set on a Hill is a solo piano release from newcomer Chad Lawson.  From the opening introspective minimalism of “will” to the non-cliched whimsy of the closing “A Goldfish Named George,” it’s obvious that producer Will Ackerman is not exaggerating when he states “This is some of the best music I’ve heard in years.” Lawson is clearly an artist to keep an eye on, and Set on a Hill marks the emergence of a budding new talent in contemporary solo piano music.  – Bill Binkelman

Words from SoloPiano.com

I came across a beautiful write up from pianist and composer Matthew Mayer who is a beautiful composer and a very creative and gifted pianist.  He has solopiano.com and was more than considerate in listening to Set on a Hill.  I couldn’t be more grateful.  Thank you Matthew.  Please, check out his music.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Below is his review, or just click HERE.

Chad Lawson’s – Set on a Hill

My wife and I have been listening to Chad Lawson’s “Set on a Hill” for the past several weeks. If I could describe this album, I would say the following.

“There are some CDs that touch you with little effort, and ‘Set on a Hill’ does just that!”

My immediate reaction to Chad’s CD was…”This guy has patience in his compositions!”  Most composers (myself included) have a tendency to “rush” the musical message we are trying to portray, or to “force” a musical statement that though fits, maybe not as naturally to the listener. Chad’s album speaks to you calmly, and at the same time, tells you a story.

After listening to the CD consistently, I am surprised that I do not get tired or restless with the melodies, nor do I find myself wanting to rush to the next stanza. The compositions keep me in the moment, and just when I relax, I hear a beautiful chord that opens the door to a new musical setting.

Besides the fact that my wife and I have been taking turns playing his CD in our respective cars, I can honestly say, this album is a gem. Stop by and check him out! www.chadlawson.com

Matthew Mayer
www.solopiano.com
www.matthewmayer.com