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Album Review: The Return
Juan Manuel Ruiz
Cover image of the album The Return by Juan Manuel Ruiz
The Return
Juan Manuel Ruiz
2023 / Juan Manuel Ruiz
28 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
The Return is one of two solo piano albums released in December 2023 by Spanish pianist/composer Juan Manuel Ruiz (I also reviewed the second one, Memories of the Heart). The albums present two ways of looking back on the memories of people, places and events that have impacted our lives. The Return was recorded with a felted piano*, which can limit the dynamics and expressiveness of an acoustic piano, but can also be used very effectively to convey feelings and emotions that are on the darker and more introspective side. The Return is Juan Manuel Ruiz's third album following his 2018 debut, the more orchestrated Will, and his 2020 solo piano album, Cutouts, which I also reviewed.

The Return begins with the title track, a quiet, dreamy piece with a gently flowing left hand that supports the melancholy melody as it contrasts with it. My interpretation would be that the left hand represents the comfortable and familiar after a time of being away, and the right hand represents the changes and what isn't as comfortable as it was before. A sunset can represent many things - the end of a day, the end of a life, the end of a relationship - but it can also simply be a beautiful event to witness. The piece titled "Sunset" could be about any of those things with its bittersweet melody and simple accompaniment. "The Arrival" is very sad and seems to express disappointment or loss. "Absence" is even more of a heartbreaker, possibly giving in to grief or despair. The pauses in the music could be to catch a breath or to steady oneself. "Light Sleep" is a favorite. The lively waltz tempo drives those crazy thoughts that invade ones mind when a deeper sleep won't come. "Temperance" is in a more moderate waltz tempo, and is much more relaxed - thoughtful and meaningful. Like sunsets, puppets and dolls can symbolize or represent many things. "The Puppet" seems innocent, perhaps giving in to the whims of whoever is controlling the strings. "Innocence" is simple and uncomplicated but is still very melancholy in spirit. "Koswara" begins very simply, expressing deep sadness. The piece intensifies as it evolves, both emotionally and musically. The tenth and closing track is titled "The Station" and is possibly the saddest piece on the album, reaching deep within to express loss and despair - a very beautiful piece despite the painful emotions it conveys.

The Return provides something of an emotional catharsis. It will be interesting to compare it to Memories of the Heart! Both albums are available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and various streaming platforms including Spotify. Check 'em out!

*A felted piano has a piece of felt or other soft cloth placed between the hammers and the strings to soften the percussive effect of the hammers hitting the strings when the piano keys are depressed.
January 21, 2024
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