I have never awarded “Album of the Year” status to one recording because I always have several favorites for the year, but I think I’m going to have to make an exception with Mike Strickland’s Fantasy
. My one-word review of this incredible solo piano album is “WOW!!!” Mike Strickland has performed in concert at my house twice and I’ve been listening to his music for years (this is his twenty-second release), so I know what an amazing pianist/composer he is, but Fantasy
still took me by surprise. Even the sound quality of the album is superlative with a warmth that is never too bright even at the top end of the piano. Strickland did it all on this recording - compose, perform, record, engineer, mix, master and produce - and again, I am blown away. Strickland is incredibly versatile - from jazz to classical to new age, pop and everything in between - and this album has a really nice mix of styles that maintain a wonderful mood while showcasing a broad range of what he can do at the piano. (There are no blues or boogie tunes this time, but if that’s what you crave, check out Strickland’s 2011 Mississippi Boy
!). I’ve been listening to this album while working on the computer and in the evening while doing some quiet odds and ends, and while it provides a rich backdrop, this isn’t music that stays in the background - it’s too good for that and needs to be savored and appreciated.
begins with the title track, my favorite track on the album and possibly my favorite track of the year (there is sheet music available for this piece and I’m going to dive into it as soon as I can clear off an hour or so to sit at the piano!). Haunting and mysterious, I love every note of this piece and can’t keep my finger away from the “repeat” button. “Waterfall Etude” requires an amazing piano as well as an amazing pianist with a 48-note pattern on the right hand and a 40-note pattern on the left that passes through all twelve key signatures. The quickly flowing notes and non-stop motion evoke images of cascading waterfalls. Another beauty! “Anthem” was originally composed for piano and orchestra, but Strickland performs it here as a solo that celebrates some of his musical heroes, including Rachmaninoff, John Williams, and Burt Bacharach. It’s a very powerful and impressive showpiece. “I’m Home” also has sheet music and is much simpler with a sweet, “homey” spirit that just feels good. “Time” returns to lush minor-key splendor that is both poignant and soothing. Love it! At 1 1/2 minutes, “Early Evening” is perfect in its brevity and beautiful expressiveness. “A New Day” overflows with hope and optimism while conveying the peacefulness of early morning. “The King” is a gorgeous, heartfelt tribute to Strickland’s beloved father. “Song For Keith” is a wonderful jazz ballad dedicated to Keith Jarrett. “Memories of You” is almost heart-breaking with its deep emotion and sense of loss - another “wow!” “Till We Meet Again” could easily support lyrics, but the expressive melody says it all without words and brings this extraordinary album to a close. I don’t think this album will ever find a place on my shelves - gotta keep it handy!
Mike Strickland has totally hit it out of the park with Fantasy
and I give it my highest recommendation. It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. This is a must-hear!