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Album Review: Piano Improvisations
Ola Gjeilo
Cover image of the album Piano Improvisations by Ola Gjeilo
Piano Improvisations
Ola Gjeilo
2012 / 2L
71 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Piano Improvisations is the follow-up to Ola Gjeilo’s 2007 debut, Stone Rose, one of my very favorite albums for 2008. Where most of the tracks on Stone Rose were composed or at least sketched out in advance, Piano Improvisations is completely in the moment, Gjeilo’s favorite way to create music at the piano. “Enchanting” and “captivating” are two words that come to mind to describe this album, and even those words pale to the beauty and power of this music. Norwegian born and raised, Gjeilo has studied classical music, jazz , and composition since childhood, continuing for two years at London’s Royal College of Music, and going on to earn his Master’s Degree at Juilliard in 2006. With chops that enable him to do anything he desires at the piano, Gjeilo can coax a whisper from the grand as well as sending it soaring with a swirling dance. It is especially interesting that three of the tracks are for three pianos and one is for two with Gjeilo improvising all of the parts as they are layered. Three tracks are piano improvisations on original choral works. Gjeilo’s music conveys the freedom of pure improvisation while remaining melodic and cohesive. The album was recorded at Sofienberg Church in Oslo, Norway in Pure Audio Blu-Ray surround sound by 2L, a company that records in spacious acoustic venues and has won numerous awards for its surround sound. The music and the piano sound on this album are nothing short of breathtaking.

Piano Improvisations contains eighteen pieces, and there isn’t a weak link anywhere. I’ll tell you about some favorites. It begins with “Ubi Caritas,” one of Gjeilo’s choral works. The gentle rhythm and haunting melody draw you in and let you know that something really special is happening here. “Prelude” is also a fantasy on an original choral work, this time with three pianos. The first movement is buoyant and effusive - a dance for joy - while the second is quieter and more reflective before returning to a reprise of the first theme. “Susanne” is a gorgeous musical portrait that paints a picture of grace, strength, and passion. “Seven Eight” is a joyful and slightly boisterous piece in the time signature of the title. At just under two minutes, it’s a fun and energizing interlude for three pianos. “Dark Blue” is somber, soulful, and very poignant. “Santa Monica” is tranquility set to music - beautiful and peaceful. I really like the freedom and energy of “Nebraska,” a two-piano piece. “Cloudless” is as glorious as a warm summer morning while “The Great Plains” is expansive and open. “Chorale” is a quiet meditation that gently soothes as it allows the mind to wander. “Heart to Heart” closes the album with a tender musical embrace. Wow! What an album!

Piano Improvisations is sure to be nominated for many awards and will be on many “best of the year” lists, including mine. This is truly one of the best piano albums - period. It is available for download from Amazon and iTunes, and will be available on CD and DVD in early June. I give it my highest recommendation.
May 16, 2012
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Kathy's Favorites: 2012