Sleepy Baby Suite
2003 / WGM
Review by Michael Debbage
Wayne Gratz has been busy since 1989 when he recorded his debut, Reminiscence, for the Narada label. Since then, he has released several excelling albums that would make many critics short list of favorites. With his contract complete with Narada, Gratz felt this was a good time to release this independent effort. Though a very specialized project, Sleepy Baby Suite is a peaceful, placid and yet very pleasurable endeavor.
Back in the late eighties, the Narada label was a success story. It was the burgeoning label that gave the Contemporary Instrumental community a tremendous hubcap to promote their music. While David Lanz, Michael Jones, and David Arkenstone were the major players, equally adept and impressive were the likes of Spencer Brewer, Kostia and, of course, Wayne Gratz. His music was mostly focused on solo piano with minimal embellishments of varying instruments, fleshing out his music though never over the top. Mind you, his third release Follow Me Home came close with several tracks bordering on the smooth jazz genre. It was a surprise, however, it has become one of his preferred visits whenever exploring his catalog. Most recently, he released A Place Without Noise back in 2002 that was in perfect harmony with his minimalist and ensemble approach bringing the best of both worlds according to Gratz.
With Sleepy Baby Suite, Wayne has stripped his music down to the bare bones with this highly impromptu project. The very simple lullabies were written within one week while the soft sounds of rain, distant thunder, and gently chirping crickets were added later. Essentially the music is nonchalant and allocated for background purposes rather than for entertainment value. Nevertheless there are still derivative effects of the latter.
Prior to the inception of nature's soundtrack, Wayne Gratz opens with the most distinct track called "Prelude." This song could be incorporated on any of his other fine releases. Otherwise, the melody lines on the remaining tracks are less distinct but for a purpose. This album appears to be marketed toward parents of newborns to assist in soothing their child to sleep or perhaps for the parents themselves after a difficult day of parenting. The album is equally adaptable at being a source of relaxation and mood setter for those without children. While "Prelude" is the most obvious composition, there are still enjoyable melodies present on the supple "Night Night Teddy." Better yet, there is the wistful "Dreamy Rains" with its very soft non-intrusive distant thunder and pattering raindrops as the song winds down. A very nice touch indeed. The more obvious lullaby would be "Twinkle" derived from the nursery rhyme "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." Equal to the task is the spacious song "Blanket Angels." Otherwise, with the exception of the flowing "Snowflakes" and the fluid "Imagination" the melodies become less obvious as the album continues. This sequencing may have been intentional, allowing the listener to wind down and relax from a hectic day. In fact, the album concludes with over ten minutes of crickets chirping sending you off to the soft, surreal, world of slumber land.
Wayne Gratz is such a fine musician that it is almost a shame that his music has been subjected to being background music. However, this appears to be the intent of the artist and this does not take away the derivative values of this very specialized independent project. With this in mind, many fans of Wayne Gratz will find this project pleasingly peaceful.
October 30, 2003
Review by Michael Debbage