2005 / Big Secret Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Michael Sheehan’s debut recording is a gorgeous collection of twelve solo piano improvisations (except the title track, which was not improvised) that follow the course of a day. With the intention of being calming music suitable for massage, healing, and relaxation, the pieces are mostly slow and deeply expressive. Radiance is very comfortable and nonintrusive in the background, but can also provide a gentle massage for the mind on a more conscious level. A lot of improvised recordings seem to wander all over the place, but Sheehan keeps the music spontaneous with a sense of direction and purpose. It is accessible enough to enjoy on the first listen, but complex enough to seem new and fresh each time, revealing things you didn’t hear before.
“Early Morning” opens the CD with a quiet, peaceful improvisation that clocks in at more than 8 1/2 minutes, giving it time to evolve. Tranquil with lots of open spaces between the notes, the mood is warm and full of possibilities. At the beginning, the feeling is of the pure calm that permeates the early morning hours. As the piece develops, that quiet opens up to a colorful sunrise and the sparkling of dew in the first rays of sunlight. This is obviously a very evocative piece of music! “Sunrise” is leisurely and very pensive. A bit on the darker side, the slow, walking bass line makes a lovely counterpart to the shimmering right hand. “Radiance” is a 9-minute piece that is more composed. A bit more structured and melodic, parts of this piece remind me of David Nevue’s work, with its fairly simple, heartfelt melody lines and rolling left hand. Several themes are intertwined in this very interesting and enjoyable piece. “Like Children At Play” is open, innocent, and totally charming. “A Nap In the Afternoon” is so relaxed and content that I wished I had time for a nap myself! The percussive qualities of the piano lend themselves well to impressions of rain, and “Showerfall” is a perfect example of this. “Sunset” is one of the “bigger” pieces on the CD. It begins quietly with a minimalistic style. After a couple of minutes, a repetitive bass line comes in and the melody dances around it in both the upper and lower registers. A couple of minutes later, both hands are playing a series of single beat chords with rubato and varying intensity. Sheehan really makes the deep bass of this piano sing. The last minute or so of the piece has the left hand at the very bottom of the piano, signifying darkness (I think!), and the right hand up in the high end bringing out the twinkling stars. A great piece! The closing track, “Starry Sky,” beautifully conveys what it feels like to lie on your back and look up at an open night sky away from the lights of the city - very dark bass notes with open spaces between them, with more percussive treble notes becoming the stars.
Radiance is a very impressive debut, and is an album I’ll go back to often. Recommended for relaxing and reflecting, it is available from cdbaby.com.
April 11, 2005