2022 / Dreamworld Productions
Review by Kathy Parsons
I have reviewed pianist/composer Doug Hammer's music since his 2007 debut, Solace, and I have found that three things are consistent in his music: brilliance, versatility and unpredictability. A composer and musician who can do pretty much anything he chooses at the piano, Doug also orchestrates music for many other composers with stunning results. Melancholia is his 15th album and is an intimate, felted piano album of thirteen original pieces that reflect on events from the recent past. The YouTube trailer for the album quotes: "When darkness falls, it can be hard to see the light" and that is a very good synopsis of the album. Quoting Doug:
"Our lives are a series of moments. Moments gained and moments lost. We hold on as tight as we can, trying to re-create them. But they slip through our fingers, disappearing into the night. What we are left with are our memories. 'Melancholia' is a journey of time. Bittersweet, but well-lived."
As you might expect from the title, most of the music on Melancholia is sad, haunting and dark, but it is so emotionally honest that it is impossible to not be deeply affected by it. Each of the thirteen pieces is different from the others while the album maintains a consistent mood. I should also mention that although the piano is felted for this album, the piano sound is beautiful, just softened a bit. There aren't any clicks or other internal sounds.
Melancholia begins with "Darkness Falls," one of my favorites on the album. The steady repeated left hand notes feel very dark and ominous, as do the notes that go into the deep bass of the piano. Hypnotic, even as it feels almost hopeless, it's an amazingly powerful piece of music. "The Long Night" is more mysterious and quite a bit lighter with a rolling broken-chord pattern on the left hand supporting the simple, haunting melody. "Long Ago" is a gentle, bittersweet waltz that is played mostly in the upper half of the piano. "Laika" is named for the Russian space dog who became the first animal to orbit the Earth. "This is her story. It’s full of sadness and melancholy as she remembers the good times as a street dog in Moscow. It ends with her becoming one with the stars." With "Monsieur Barre's Carousel," you can feel the up and down movement as the merry-go-round revolves to the music. Mostly a minor-key waltz, it has a short passage near the end where it changes to a major key and then back to the minor. Is there anything sadder than seeing an "Empty Chair" where someone you loved once sat, knowing they will never sit there again? The piece with that title expresses those sentiments so well. "Dancing Alone" is extraordinary with several themes woven together that are quite different from each other yet work together seamlessly. Sometimes quiet and pensive and sometimes very powerful, it tells quite a story and then trails off at the end. "Letting Go" is a fascinating piece that begins very simply and quietly, gradually building to a very intense middle section that abruptly lightens and then fades to the end. "Winding Down" is played in the upper half of the piano, giving it a sound similar to a music box - tender and poignant. "Almost Midnight" alternates between a mysterious theme and a light waltz, all played in the upper octaves of the piano. "Farewell" ends the album with a sad but hopeful "goodbye" to someone very dear.
Doug Hammer has once again outdone himself with Melancholia. The album is available from Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon, and many streaming sites including Spotify. Sheet music downloads for all of the tracks and solo piano songbooks are available from Doug's website. Very highly recommended!
October 21, 2022