Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1
2018 / PCM
Review by Kathy Parsons
Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 is a collection of fourteen solo piano improvisations by Peter Calandra that were created over the past fifteen years or so. There is a lot of variety in the music, but the album is very cohesive and sounds as though it could have been made over a period of weeks rather than fifteen years. Calandra is an award-winning composer of music for film and television, and his 2017 album, The Road Home, was recently awarded Best Contemporary Instrumental Album by One World Music Radio. Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 is quite different from that album and has more of a jazz vibe that is sometimes dark, sometimes playful, sometimes exploratory, and always honest and very beautiful. Because the improvs were created over a long period of time, they were recorded on a variety of pianos. Most were Yamaha grands, but even so, a shift from one piano to another can sometimes be jarring. This album is so well-engineered and mastered is that there is no noticeable difference in the piano sound from one track to the next.
Peter Calandra has scored more than seventy films and has written more than 2000 compositions for television. He is also an assistant professor at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York, teaching both graduate and undergraduate students.
Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 begins with “Carry the Torch,” a spirited, majestic piece that also has thoughtful, pensive moments. “Two Days” is darker and much more subdued - processing deep emotions at the piano. I really love the simple beauty and sincerity of this piece. “Dreamland” could be a gentle lullaby for a sleepy child or a sleepless adult - smooth and very soothing with a sprinkle of shimmering magic. “Distant Memory” is also a favorite. Some passages of the piece are sharp and crisp while others are less defined - much like memories from a while ago. “Summer Morn” is lively, free and brightly optimistic. The dark and sometimes murky “Enchanted Forest” suggests a place that may not be too friendly to visitors, but tempts them to enter anyway. “Often Minor” is very (minor) and more than a little spooky. “Tonester” hints at Gershwin here and there. The left hand stays mostly in the deep bass of the piano while the right usually plays much higher, contrasting dark and light, brooding and playful - also a favorite. Graceful and relaxed, “Summer Rain” is as refreshing as its title. My favorite piece on the album is “Blueish,” a fun mix of blues, stride and ragtime.
Artists this versatile and adept at a variety of genres of music are rare, and Peter Calandra is certainly one of the best! Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 is available from Amazon and iTunes, and I highly recommend it!
June 8, 2018