Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW: CHRIS NOLE - Songs of the Wide Horizon (repost)

The following review originally ran in Wind and Wire, the webzine, in 2004. It is being reposted here as a courtesy to the artist.

Songs of the Wide Horizon
Moulin D'or Recordings (2003)
I am in love with this album! It reminds me of the very best work from pianist Wayne Gratz (on what I consider his best releases, Blue Ridge and A Gift of the Sea). Seldom do I hear piano (both solo and ensemble) that captures a vision and feeling so perfectly. About two minutes into the opening track, "To The Horizon," when Nole brings in the rhythmic accompaniment, it's easy to imagine yourself cruising down the long stretch of highway pictured on the album cover. The piano has a rolling sound to it as the drum kit pounds out a perfectly-paced midtempo rhythm. Music this fine just makes the miles fly by - I should know because I play a lot of this kind of music on road trips. It's not new age, it's not adult contemporary and it's not smooth jazz. It's that particular hybrid that takes the best from each genre and produces a hybrid filled with true feeling, accessible music, and polished production.

While assisted by a few other players on various guitars on selected tracks, most of what you'll hear on this CD is all Chris Nole. This is someone who really knows his way around the production of ensemble instrumental music. Engineering is textbook; you could easily think this CD came from a big house, such as Narada or Windham Hill (except that Nole's music is tons better than what comes from those labels these days). I sure wish FM radio would play music like this; it would make riving, even in rush hour, so much more enjoyable.
And that's where Songs of the Wide Horizon excels, i.e. it's ideal driving music, provided you prefer acoustic instruments (primarily piano) where the electronic keyboards are used to embellish or as sampled versions of the real thing. From the jaunty Irish-inflected "Far and Wide" with its jig-like rhythms, sampled accordion, and rolling piano chords, to the gentle melancholy of "First Rain" (solo piano with a hint of synth textures), to the wistful and sadly romantic "Miles to Go" (graced by spot-on assorted synth strings, including a great solo cello line) and ending with the perfect closing track, "Homeward" (which uses Copland-like strings to color the piano melody with nostalgia and genuine warmth), the album is a nearly perfect execution of music that is "mainstream" without sounding the least bit trite, commercial, overblown or false. I could probably leave this in a car's CD player all day long if I was driving cross-country.

Songs of the Wide Horizon easily earns my highest recommendation. Grab this one before fall arrives, because when the leaves turn red and gold, the skies is that comforting blend of sun and clouds, and the breeze carries a hint of frost, you're going to want it when you set off in search of that perfect two-lane highway running all the way to the setting sun. Can't you just feel it in your bloodstream? I sure can!
The album can be purchased (CD or download) at CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, or directly from the artist at his website.

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