The Color of Extraordinary
2018 / Records DK
Review by Kathy Parsons
The Color of Extraordinary is a collection of ten solo piano improvisations by the incredibly prolific (and gifted!) Scott Lawlor. Darkly ambient, this album is something of a postlude to Lawlor’s trilogy of albums dealing with his younger brother’s cancer diagnosis, death/transition, and the grieving process that followed. The Color of Extraordinary was recorded in early 2018 and Lawlor describes the music this way: “….this one feels a bit more philosophical and reflective, realizing at the most existential level, I am now a different person than I was before and how those differences, though not always obvious to many, have changed who I am at a fundamental level.” The ten pieces provide well over an hour of atmospheric music that is easy to have in the background, but more focused listening - perhaps in a darkened room - is the key to fully appreciating the music and experiencing the emotions being expressed. As with Lawlor’s previous albums, the titles to the pieces are fairly long and poetic, providing insight into what he was thinking as he created the music. Reverb is used extensively, adding to the atmospheric vibe of the music and giving it a somewhat otherworldly feeling.
The album begins with “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.” By alternating major and minor chord patterns, Lawlor effectively alternates between the sounds of light and darkness as he sets the tone of the album. “What if music is what escapes when a heart breaks” ventures into much darker emotional depths, almost meandering around the piano keyboard searching for answers and perhaps realizing that closure will likely never be fully achieved. The title track isn’t really melodic or rhythmic, but is probably more accessible to those who prefer a less ambient style. I have no idea what the title “She peered over the ledge of heaven” refers to, but this 18 1/2-minute work is the centerpiece of the album. It begins very quietly and mysteriously with open space between many of the notes/passages. The first several minutes are ominous and eery. The next section moves up the keyboard a bit, becoming lighter and more comfortable. Throughout the piece, open space continues to be as important as the notes whether they are in the deep bass of the piano or up in the treble. Improvisation doesn’t always suggest a musical stream of consciousness, but this piece does and is an in-depth exploration of an artist’s musical thought process. The last few minutes feel lighter and more optimistic, with some kind of acceptance or resolution achieved. “The deeper the grief, the closer is God” begins with a return to the depths of despair. At about the midpoint of the piece, you can feel a powerful uplift in the music that gradually brings comfort and a stronger sense of peace. It truly is amazing how much can be expressed with such an economy of notes. “Our souls contained more scar tissue than life” is the piece I like best on this album. Introspective and often poignant, honesty and vulnerability seem to flow from each note. “But my grief will never go” ends the album with an expression of acceptance that permanent change has occurred - an “it is what it is” of sorts. It is far from light-hearted, but my interpretation is that there is now an ability to move forward.
Scott Lawlor is a master of expressing complicated emotions with open space and a minimal number of notes. I always come away from his recordings feeling like I have shared a personal and emotional experience with him. The Color of Extraordinary is available from Bandcamp, Amazon and iTunes.
February 20, 2019