2012 / 2L
Review by Michael Debbage
Ola Gjeilo has been very busy this year with two extremely different releases. The choral work of Northern Lights was very impressive and challenging and much the same can be said for Piano Improvisations but for different reasons. Released on the impeccable Norwegian label 2L who are developing a stellar reputation in the quality of their recordings, Piano Improvisations only adds to that credence. Recorded in surround sound and on blu-ray disc, the production quality is impeccable. Needless to say, if this creation was going to be successful, Gjeilo’s performance had to meet this challenge with an impeccable performance. And the response is a resounding equivocal yes as both production and performance is an outstanding mesmerizing match.
The improvisation label is not in the complete pure sense of the word as Ola begins the album by borrowing from Northern Lights courtesy of the first three tracks. However, the recordings for “Ubi Caritas”, “Tota Pulchra Es” and “Prelude” were all previously geared to a choral arrangement and in its original form did not even feature Ola. Here we are exposed to completely different renditions, the most significant departure being “Ubi Caritas” that has more in common with Gjeilo’s jazzy Stone Rose album than the choral arrangement. The new rendition is a beauty and the performance immaculate. The recording takes place at Sofienberg Church in Oslo, Norway and at times producer Morten Lindberg layers the piano. This can be found on the three layered “Prelude” which takes away the improvisational label but the results are multi dimensional. The three layered effect repeats itself within the jubilee of “Seven Eight” and the heavenly “Cloudless” that will only transport you to a vast lush open green plain looking up at an expansive uninterrupted regal blue sky. Similar results can be found on the two layered “Nebraska”.
Perhaps some of the improvisational effects are lost a little by the glorious multi-layering effects, but this is countered by the total improvisation on the remaining balance of the album. Recorded in one take and in complete free form, look for “Meribel”, “ Susanne”, “Dark Blue”, “Santa Monica”, “The Lake”, “Light Blue”, “The Great Plains”, “The Biltmore Shrine”, “Little Rock”, “Chorale” and “Heart to Heart”. While they are all very impressive, of these tracks, “The Great Plains” jumps out at you with a greater sense of melody and richness in his playing completed contrasted by the stark and reflective “Chorale”. Gjeilo leaves the velvet touch until last courtesy of the closer “Heart to Heart”.
With no blu-ray player in the household, this review was limited to a cd appraisal. Despite this limitation, the results are nothing short of stellar. From the cross pollinating of his more commercial effort Stone Rose to his eclectic choral arrangements found on Northern Lights, Gjeilo has now taken us down the road of improvisation only because he can. So where does this extraordinary pianist take us next? Who knows? What is clear is that Piano Improvisations is further evidence that this musician, as talented as he is, can match his technical ability with superbly warm charismatic performances.
January 1, 2013