2018 / Neptic Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
Quiet Wonder is the eleventh full-length album and fifth solo piano album by multi-instrumentalist/composer Nathan Speir. More ambient than melodic with the expressive freedom of (some) improvisation, the fourteen original tracks also explore the natural “shifting timbres of the instrument through the year.” Anyone who has access to a piano knows that they can develop a wide array of clicks and squeaks as well as pedal noises and “alternate tunings” (quoting myself there!) that are not necessarily in complete agreement with other sounds from the piano. There has been a movement recently to record the piano in this more “natural state,” occasionally utilizing pianos that have been neglected for quite some time. That is definitely not the case with Speir’s baby grand. There are no jarring variances in the tuning and the sounds of the inner workings of the piano are kept to a minimum. A trained ear can probably detect the subtle changes in the piano, but they are just that - subtle.
Speir recorded the album in his basement studio using several recording techniques as he experimented with natural changes in his piano. He says in the liner notes for the CD that the music “in some respects, is about my wonder in the movements of my own heart. In other respects, my underlying theme for Quiet Wonder is the mysterious Way of return to pristine Simplicity…a mystery indeed.” In addition to composing and performing the music, Speir did the recording and mixing in his home studio in Winston-Salem, NC, as well as doing the graphic design, production and mastering.
Quiet Wonder begins with a prelude called “The Need For Quiet.” Very ambient and open, it very effectively sets the tone of the album. “Searching For a Sanctuary” is gently rhythmic, melancholy, and slightly edgy. As the title suggests, the piece expresses a sense of longing and of looking for something. I really like this one! “Beginning to Listen” makes great use of the piano dampers to create a quiet, dreamy atmosphere. “You Stretch My Heart” is a tender expression of love that allows the piano to sparkle with passion - a favorite. “Boundless Gratitude” is particularly ambient, with long holds in places, letting the sounds blend and evolve in time - very thoughtful and meditative. “Humble Valleys” is quietly reflective and very beautiful. The title track has a very delicate and immediate feeling of being in the moment. Notes flutter up and down the piano keyboard at various speeds and dynamics, creating tonal colors that range from muted pastels to a vibrant brilliance. “Tender Stillness” is almost fragile in its delicacy and conveys the feeling of being in a quiet place of beauty and simply being for a few moments - also a favorite. I live near the ocean and just love the ebb and flow of “Tides At Bay.” It brings images of the movement of the water itself as well as hypnotic flashes of light dancing on the surface of the waves and ripples. “Beginning At Sunset” is something of a peaceful nocturne that seems to describe a clear night sky and the calm that comes as the sun sets - a very fitting close to this lovely album.
Quiet Wonder is great in the background, but is definitely most effective when actively listening to the music. It is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!
May 7, 2018