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Album Review: Improvisations For Piano
Scott Lawlor
Cover image of the album Improvisations For Piano by Scott Lawlor
Improvisations For Piano
Scott Lawlor
2017 / Cerebral Audio
61 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Improvisations For Piano is a very dark ambient album from Scott Lawlor, one of the most prolific composers on the planet. The five tracks on the album are improvisations for solo piano, piano and cello, piano and organ, piano and flute, and piano and bass clarinet. Experimental, edgy, dark and moody are words that come to mind while listening to this album. In other words, if you are looking for a Jim Brickman clone, this album probably won’t work for you. Some of this music is downright spooky and some of it feels like deep space music with atmospheric droning and ethereal reverb. The five tracks range in length from eight minutes to seventeen, so each improvisation takes the listener on a sonic journey to places that are sometimes peaceful, but are more likely to be somewhat unsettling. The liner notes explain that this album was inspired by the work of Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006), a Russian composer of classical music. I am not familiar with her music, so I can’t make a comparison, but Ustvolskaya studied with Shostakovich during World War II and was known for developing her own unique style of composition. The liner notes also refer to the album as “an exploration of the intersection of ambient, jazz and classical music.” That’s a broad enough description to be quite accurate.

Improvisations For Piano begins with the only solo piano track. Actually, there are some synth shadings behind the piano which make it even more atmospheric. This is the most peaceful track of the five and my favorite. It’s still edgy and very ambient, but isn’t nearly as dark as some of the other pieces. “Improvisation For Piano and Cello” gets really dark and murky and would be perfect for a very intense film soundtrack. Some of the cello parts seem to go much lower than the normal range for an acoustic cello, but the deep bass tones create an inky black mood and feelings of being very lost or in imminent danger, possibly in deep space. “Improvisation For Piano and Organ” is the seventeen-minute track with the organ and piano taking turns in the foreground. While in the background, the organ produces mostly a drone sound from the deep bass, and sometimes it produces a low rumble that the higher notes flash and flicker around. This one doesn’t really feel like space music to me, but it is definitely dark and ambient. I suspect that the flute in “Improvisation for Piano and Flute” is a bass flute because of its tonal range. This improv is a little bit lighter, although much of the piano part stays in the deep bass, giving it weight. The last track is “Improvisation for Piano and Bass Clarinet.” With both instruments residing mostly in the bass range with occasional flickers of light in the upper octaves of the piano, this one also stays quite dark and “spacey.” It could heighten the suspense and intensity of a movie or television show as well as providing a rather unusual background for a social gathering!

Improvisations For Piano isn’t for everyone, but it is certainly different from anything I’ve heard or reviewed recently. If you’re up for a unique listening experience, the album is available from Amazon, iTunes and Bandcamp.
February 13, 2018