I listen to an incredible amount of music in the course of writing reviews of new recordings and sheet music, and as much as I enjoy that, every once in awhile, an album comes along that smacks me upside the head and makes me stop and say “WOW!” Ryan Marvel’s Reflecting Forward
is that album. I have thoroughly enjoyed Marvel’s previous releases, but this one is so intense and so emotionally powerful that it won’t be an easy task to take it out of my player and move on to something else when the review is finished. That doesn’t happen very often.
The fourteen original piano solos emerged from a personal crisis and the challenges and healing processes that followed. In Marvel’s own words: “The record represents emotions and reflections throughout the year, and what I experienced in trying to heal, cut out the noise, and rely on my own trust and personal growth. The album, to me, represents pain, anger, realization, healing, peace, love and renewal. It’s not meant to be a sad album…As I said in the liner notes, renewal is an ongoing process…and we all go through things in our lives that require us to look deep inside of ourselves and re-commit ourselves to family and friends. It’s personal, it’s human.” All but two of the tracks on the album were recorded at Piano Haven Studios in Sedona by Joe Bongiorno. The other two were recorded at Coupe Studios in Boulder, CO. Bongiorno did the mastering and the piano sound is absolutely perfect.
All of the pieces on Reflecting Forward
are excellent, but I’ll mention some of my favorites. The album begins with the title track, a piece that begins with an intense intro that represents the sudden, devastating change that happened earlier this year. The rest of the piece is much softer and more cautious, representing a tentative hope. “Forgotten” was composed about Marvel’s 11-year-old daughter and her dance between being a child and a teen - a difficult time in every young girl’s life. Heartfelt and bittersweet, it truly shows the tenderness of a loving dad. “Conflict” features passages with the piano strings muted and the plucking sound that makes contrasted with the flowing quality of the more “normal” way of playing the piano - very intense and deeply emotional. “Apology” goes really deep and dark, but is also hypnotic and haunting. The piece lightens gradually as hope for forgiveness returns. The repeated pattern on the left hand in “Horizons” represents the steadiness of the horizon while the right hand is more improvisatory and reflects both the uncertainty and the possibility of this past year. “Then, Now” is almost a soliloquy and feels very isolated, introspective and brutally honest. “Stillness” goes even deeper inside, expressing loss and despair, but also finding rays of hope to cling to. “Somber” is very spare with lots of damper pedal utilized to create an effective atmosphere of dark reflection. “Hopeful” is much lighter as the dark clouds start to give way to sunnier skies and moments of joy. “Beginnings” closes this incredible album with cautious optimism and hope amid much change and complexity.
I don’t use the term “masterpiece” very often, but I really feel that Reflecting Forward
qualifies. Ryan Marvel says that creating the music brought him much healing and peace, and I’m sure it will do so for his listeners as well. I give the album my highest recommendation. It is available from www.RyanMarvel.com
, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Again, WOW!