Posts Tagged ‘ percussion ’

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

Summer Suite, Vol 1


It’s finally here. Summer. The season of lemonade, sunburns, bicycles, kiddie-pools, hot dogs and my favorite; ice cream. Oh how I love the ice cream. Häagen-Dazs has this flavor called Caramel Cone that I literally will run somebody over for. I’m not kidding, seriously. I will not hesitate. If it’s the last one, I’ll pull a Karate-Kid and sweep the leg. Buy it, and then ask for my mailing address. This will PROBABLY be the only time I’d make it public to a complete stranger. So good. So good. Here is the link again Yum.

Where was I? Oh yes, Summer. So, as I have mentioned earlier I have had this idea going through my head of an album consisting only of a piano and percussion. I know, it’s odd. I haven’t heard anything like it before either and I didn’t know if it would actually work. But, I thought I would at least give it some thought. In my close proximity lives a percussionist by the name of Jim Brock. His resume is only trumped by his beautiful spirit and ease of smile. To say he’s an artist of the percussion is a very grave understatement. I knew that if I wanted to execute this album idea, it had to be someone of Jim’s caliber. Someone that would think like Jim in a sense of allowing more space than noise. Of listening instead of speaking incoherently. Someone like Jim who would rather create a beautiful bed of sound rather than wait for those 2 or 3 seconds to through in a “lick” if you will. As you’ve probably already guessed, I stopped looking for someone like Jim, I humbly called and just asked.

We met on my birthday (March 26….I like ice cream, review previous paragraph if you need ideas) with neither of us knowing what to expect. We hadn’t rehearsed, hadn’t even talked about what we would do. I walked in feeling a wee bit of “oh crap-ness” what am I doing wasting everyone’s time, being that I hadn’t even written anything specifically for the occasion. Jim set up his entourage of noise makers while I sat at the piano and we just looked at each other. “Well” we both said without a word “now what?”.

What proceeded to take place is something that I thought could have happened, if two minds were of the same thought. And it did. I like space in my music, Jim likes space. I’d rather listen than talk (ask anyone who knows me and they’ll agree wholeheartedly). I played through a melody or two and then we decided let’s at least get something on tape (digitally speaking) and just go from there. We started with what are now tracks 2-10 on the EP. It starts with Jim creating sounds of the ocean with occasion birds (if you will) coming sparsely into the background. All percussion, all piano, nothing else. I then proceed to play exactly what in my mind was a release. A complete departure from Set on a Hill.

Before the recording, the only verbiage I gave to Jim was “Celebration”. Set on a Hill was recorded in a time of great struggle and hardship. That album sounds that way because it is exactly what I was dealing with then. With Summer Suite, Vol 1, it was time to rejoice, to celebrate new life. Not only in my life but also in knowing that my wife and I were (are) expecting our first child. This was a whole new chapter and I wanted to emulate such exuberance. If you notice, there are moments where you hear Jim clapping throughout the piece. Afterward, Jim told me the claps were that of rejoicing. He totally got it. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.

So, here it is. Officially released today, June 21st the first day of Summer. I hope you enjoy it. It’s the first of a series that I intend to do, each volume being with a different artist, or perhaps just by myself at the black and whites. I’ll post the links below where it can be found. It’s only $3.99 as a download, or $5 for the actual disc. Stickers and t-shirts coming soon (if interest continues).

As always, thanks for reading. God bless.
chad

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