By a Wire
2014 / Little Hartley Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
By a Wire presents us with two significant firsts: the debut recording of pianist/composer Jennifer DeFrayne, a very promising new artist, and the producing debut of Fiona Joy (other than her own recordings). Co-produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, DeFrayne’s soulful piano is backed by an impressive list of musicians that includes Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Jill Haley (English horn), and Eugene Friesen (cello).
DeFrayne is a self-taught pianist from Michigan who started improvising as a very young child. As a teen, she played in a local art gallery and the owner told her she sounded similar to George Winston. When it was obvious that DeFrayne didn’t know who Winston was, the gallery owner gave her a CD of his music and literally changed her life. DeFrayne attended college in Music Management and continued to play wherever their was an audience, but then a series of tragic events derailed her plans. The deaths of several close family members (three of whom are celebrated in musical tributes on the album) and a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her with many challenges in movement, memory, and speech as well as the inability to find solace in her piano, made her fiercely determined to recover and reconnect with the “wires” of her beloved instrument. It’s a very inspiring story, to be sure, and the resulting music is warm, powerful, and expressive.
By a Wire opens with “Sunrise to Sunset,” a piece that begins as a quiet piano solo and gradually builds to include flugel horn (Oster), light percussion (Tom Eaton), and wordless vocals (Eaton and Noah Wilding). As the piece hits a climax, it gradually winds down to a gentle hush - a lovely start! “Calling Angels” was one of the first pieces DeFrayne composed after her stroke, and it overflows with raw emotion. There is very little accompaniment to the piano for the first half of the piece, but then the other musicians enter and send the passions soaring. I love this one! The title track is the only piano solo and is dedicated to DeFrayne’s father, who passed away when she was eighteen. Loving yet very sad, it’s another favorite. “Summer Reunion” is dedicated to DeFrayne’s late uncle, who believed in her dream and encouraged her to follow it. Much lighter and happier, just about the whole list of musicians played on this one. “I’ll See You There” was written for DeFrayne’s late sister. A duet for piano and cello (Friesen), it’s a gorgeous remembrance that flows from the heart. The lighthearted and carefree “Mexican Daydream” is a surprise, but a very welcome one that evokes images of warm breezes, cold beverages, and a lazy afternoon with friends. The poignant “Letting Go” begins with a heart-rending cello solo (Friesen) and becomes a quartet for piano, cello, English horn (Haley), and violin (Rebecca Daniel). “Clear Night” is a song DeFrayne improvised in the studio and dedicated to her two children. Oster and Wilding contribute their own musical magic and bring the album to a close.
Hats off to Jennifer DeFrayne for making her dream come true - and in very grand style at that! This album is already generating a lot of buzz, so check it out! It’s available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!
May 26, 2014