Holy Ground - Impromptu Hymns
2022 / Neil Patton
Review by Kathy Parsons
It's been four years since Neil Patton released his Solitaire album, so to say his new release, Holy Ground, was highly anticipated is very much an understatement! A collection of twelve solo piano improvisations on classic hymns that have been especially meaningful in Neil's life, Holy Ground is a very personal album. Those who are familiar with Neil's music know that he has the playing chops to express whatever he chooses at the piano, but these improvisations come straight from the heart and overflow with Neil's faith as well as his humanity. This quote from the liner notes of the CD explains:
"This was not the album I was planning to release. Work was almost finished on a new collection of my original music, when I received word that Joshua, the 16-year-old son of my dear friends, was facing a long fight with cancer. Over nine days, I recorded myself improvising on some of the hymns that have encouraged my faith, in hopes of sending these recordings to Joshua's family and supporters. These are those recordings. Many of the harmonies and melodies were created as I played, resulting in some surprises for the listener (and the performer). Sometimes they wander, sometimes they are focused, just as the conversations of prayer can be. I pray that these spontaneous renderings will bring you hope, and a reminder of things far greater than the trials that surround us now."
Holy Ground is Neil Patton's fifth solo piano album. All of his albums have been outstanding, and his Between Shadow and Light (2015) was named "Album of the Year" by MainlyPiano.com. This quote from my review of that album suits Holy Ground as well for the very same reasons:
"There are a lot of really good pianists on the contemporary piano scene, but only a few are breath-taking, and Neil Patton is one of those. With impeccable technique, lightning-fast fingers, and amazing control of the piano, Patton also brings that intangible magic and passion to his compositions and playing that set him apart from most. From thundering and energetic to the most delicate and tender moments, Patton knows what he wants to say with his music, and does so with clarity and precision, but also with a ton of heart."
Most of the twelve hymns are very familiar, including "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Be Thou My Vision," "Be Still, My Soul," "Come Thou Font," and "Take My Life and Let It Be." There isn't a weak track on the album, but if I had to choose one favorite, it would be "O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus." At almost seven minutes, Neil takes his time to explore the beautiful, often haunting and deeply emotional qualities of this hymn. He starts out with a whisper of the melody line, expressing only the essence of the song and yet letting the emotions flow. As the piece develops, it becomes more fleshed out without ever losing any of its expressiveness and heart. There are several improvised passages in the piece that only add to the personal expression and interpretation of the song. My one-word reaction to this track is "wow!!!" This whole album is exceptional, but that track obviously really speaks to me.
In re-reading what I have written here, I see I have used the word "heart" many times in this review, and that really says it all. Holy Ground is available as a physical CD as well as a download from Neil's website. It is also available from Amazon and streaming sites such as Spotify. I give it my highest recommendation.
December 20, 2022