Circle of Life
2022 / Mark Freshwater
Review by Kathy Parsons
Circle of Life is the ninth album from pianist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Freshwater. Almost three years in the making, the first two pieces composed for the album also inspired the title. The first, "Elise Marie," celebrates the birth of Mark's thirteenth grandchild, and the second, "June's Final Adventure," is an homage to his late mother-in-law. In October 2019, Mark had cervical surgery that saved his right hand, fingers and arm. He was in physical therapy for months, but was able to start playing the piano again - with some difficulty - in the spring of 2020. As he healed, Mark's interest in songwriting waned for most of the rest of the year and performance opportunities were few and far between due to Covid. At the end of 2020, Mark and his wife moved from Arizona back to Ohio to be closer to family. Fortunately, the move renewed Mark's interest in composing and he completed Circle of Life in February 2022.
With the extended time span between albums and such a range of life experiences during that period, it is no wonder that the moods and expressive qualities from one piece to the next are varied. Some of the pieces are solo piano and some are more orchestrated, but the album holds together beautifully and has a soothing, peaceful vibe. I have reviewed all but one of Mark Freshwater's albums, and I think this could easily be his best work to date.
Circle of Life begins with "Time Passages," an original piano solo that is reflective and dreamy, tinged with a bit of melancholy (as nostalgic looks back often are). "Windows" was inspired by circumstances of the pandemic. "I kept thinking about folks trying to visit loved ones, including those in our family, doing so through windows, no physical contact. The higher pitched notes are folks 'calling' in through the windows to loved ones in quarantine. The lower note responses are the folks inside 'calling back' to their loved ones on the outside." "Elise Marie" overflows with tenderness and love, inspired by a "lucky" 13th grandchild. At the other end of the life spectrum is another piece that overflows with tenderness and love, this time as a celebration of life for a beloved 95-year-old mother-in-law. String washes behind the piano are a beautiful touch. "I Wonder As I Wander" is a poignant piano arrangement of the traditional folk song (one of my favorites!) with sparing harp and string enhancements here and there. "The Abyss" represents the darkest moments of the pandemic. Synthesized bass and wordless choral vocals take you to the "depths" with feelings of mourning and loss. Near the end, "brighter notes promise hope and an end to suffering." I love "New Beginning," a piano solo that seems to come from the depths of the soul. Both reflective of tragedy and loss as well as hopeful for a brighter future, it's a truly amazing piece of music. "Kiss the Rain" is Mark's arrangement of a piece by Yiruma. Somewhat shortened with the sounds of a rainstorm added, Mark says: "For anyone being confined to a bed, a quarantine situation or whatever, I am imagining how great it would be to be able to go outside (again) and actually be able to kiss the rain." "Prayerful" begins with the sound of church bells and offers a place of respite and calm. With piano and cello, it's a very expressive close to the album.
Welcome back to Mark Freshwater! Circle of Life is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify.
May 9, 2022