Beneath the Olympian Skies
2007 / Willow Bay Music
Review by Michael Debbage
The skies of Mother Earth are capable of presenting a rainbow of emotions on any given day. From the dramatic to the dreamy and the magical to the melancholy, these metaphors would also accurately describe the musical world of Jim Wilson. Though never gloomy there is a certain underlying melancholy mood to Beneath The Olympian Skies displaying a more reflective recording that one would expect from this exceptional pianist.
The album opens with the pensive title track and while Wilson’s playing is spot on there is something amiss about the string arrangements. Certainly an organic approach versus a synthesizer would have been much more effective. “Dreamland” follows, but the provoking violin of Lili Haydn along with Jim’s distinctive soulful keyboards as he slips off from one key to another helps assist in making this a wistful and wonderful composition.
This acts only as an appetizer when compared to the majesty of “Beside The River Of Dreams." This composition has all the ingredients of Jim Wilson, opening with soft mystical percussion accented by the tinkling of his piano paralleling the birth of a small stream. And just as a river grows in strength and bravado so does the song courtesy of the rhythmic drums and strings bringing the song to a conclusion. With the exception of the missing uilleann pipes, this song personifies the musical world of Jim Wilson.
There is also the upbeat and celebrative tone of “Rio” but the authenticity of its Latin influences are challenging. Otherwise, Wilson winds down the album by going back to basics with several songs that are rather bare and essentially focuses on his piano and the synthesizer string arrangements of Brad Cole. The music is memorable but production wise when compared to the prior album “A Place In My Heart” there is a lack of warmth and fullness. Nevertheless, he essentially concludes with the haunting melody of “Don’t Stand At My Grave” that includes the rich strings of the violin, viola and cello. Even in its simplicity it is simply stunning.
Despite the commitment to strength and endurance many athletes are only capable of making the Olympic trials. This in and of itself is a wonderful achievement, however, most athletes can only dream of reaching the medal podium. Musically speaking this is a regular achievement from this sorely overlooked pianist. While Beneath The Olympian Skies may not be his golden moment it is still a vital recording that should be part of your listening pleasures.
November 14, 2007
Review by Michael Debbage