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Album Review: Journey: Improvisations for Solo Piano
Brian DeMaris
Cover image of the album Journey: Improvisations for Solo Piano by Brian DeMaris
Journey: Improvisations for Solo Piano
Brian DeMaris
2021 / Brian DeMaris
58 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Journey: Improvisations for Solo Piano is the first solo piano album by composer/conductor/pianist/teacher Brian DeMaris. A collection of sixteen improvisations, the project began in November 2020 and was "created entirely by chance." In Brian DeMaris' words: "amidst a lack of creative output brought about by the pandemic, I sat down at the piano with a microphone on, aiming to rediscover the moments I spent as a youth sitting at the piano and improvising. By February I had recorded over 100 completely spontaneous improvisations. I saved each with a photo, randomly chosen from my past travels. During the summer of 2021 I selected 16, arranged them in the order the photos were originally taken, named them, and ended up with Journey. This album is a reflection on my own journey, and artistic evidence that we never know where life will take us. Everything is improvisation." What a fascinating process and one I have never encountered before! All of the photos are displayed on DeMaris' website along with a brief description of how the aural and visual came together. "What emerged is a musical and visual travelogue of the past 15 years, a journey from east to west." Although the music is quite varied, if I needed to categorize it, I think I'd go with "classical contemporary" or "modern classical." Brian DeMaris is very experienced in a variety of musical settings and applications, so his music very difficult to put into a specific box - always a good thing, in my opinion!

Journey begins with "Jerusalem" and recalls a trip to that ancient city in 2008. Quoting DeMaris: "This improvisation reminds me of an energetic city that makes one feel like they are living in the past, present and future all at once." "Mosaic" was matched to a photo from the same trip, this time a quilt or mosaic within Herod's palace in Caesarea. The piece begins very freely and quietly with lots of open space between the notes. Very gradually, it becomes more expressive, dramatic and complex. "Jellyfish" was matched with a photo taken at the Minnesota Zoo in 2014. A rippling, undulating effect runs throughout the piece, suggesting the movement of both the water and the jellyfish the piece was named for. "Mill City" expresses a different kind of energy. "My time in the Mill City [Minneapolis] was encapsulated with hard work, perseverance, stress, accomplishment and meaningful relationships that will last forever. The music reminds me of the perpetual rhythm of the water and energy of making art." Dynamic and restless, it says a lot about the feeling and vibe of being in a metropolitan area. "Windmills" goes in a somewhat different direction. "I chose a tonality and tempo and primarily just 'pressed keys,' trying to remain devoid of emotion." Very dark and mysterious, much of the piece is definitely more descriptive than emotive, but it isn't at all lacking in expression. "South Mountain Sunset" is a favorite. Very peaceful yet colorful, it reflects on moving to a new home in Arizona as well as viewing a sunset from the front yard. "Turnagain Arm" is one of the first improvisations Brian created and the photo it is named for is in Anchorage, Alaska. Much of the left hand plays in the deepest bass of the piano, giving the improvisation a dark feeling that is more mysterious than threatening or mournful. "South Rim Serenade" reflects on the awe and wonder of being on the rim of the Grand Canyon watching the sun rise. It also expresses the calm of early morning and the hope of a new day. "Vermillion Cliffs" has a stronger melodic line than many of the tracks, although it becomes more free-form in the middle of the piece, reflecting on the stillness and serenity of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I really like this one, too!

Many thanks to Brian DeMaris for taking us with him on this personal and expressive Journey! The album is available from BrianDeMaris.com, Amazon, Apple/iTunes, and streaming sites like Spotify.
December 16, 2021
This review has been tagged as:
Modern Classical