Tuesday, October 7, 2014

REVIEW: David Nevue - Open Sky

Open Sky
Midnight Rain Productions (2013)

The origins of the music on Open Sky, pianist David Nevue's 14th album, were solo piano compositions he wrote over the years that "gathered dust" so to speak, while he was devoting his energy and time to two special album projects (Adoration and Revelation). These songs became what the artist referred to as a "stockpile," compositions awaiting recording and releasing. In 2011, Nevue released A Delicate Joy, a collection of tracks from the stockpile, united by a motif of (to quote Nevue) "…sweet, peaceful, happily-ever-after style tunes..." The remaining stockpile songs (which had not been recorded) featured a darker, edgier mood to the music, some of them with a driving sense of drama. It is these solo piano numbers that comprise Open Sky. The album features a mixture of 13 originals and 4 covers (such as the traditional hymn "The Water Is Wide" as well as the classic folk tunes "Scarborough Fair" and "Morning Has Broken").

Despite the way this album came to be, assembled as it were from "leftovers," there is still a unified musical vision present here, which one would expect with a pianist as talented as Nevue. While the mood on the specific pieces can swing from reflective to powerful, from somber to upbeat, all the songs carry a theme, best stated by the artist in his liner notes: "Open Sky is a celebration of those 'wide awake moments' when you feel truly alive, almost as if you were somehow standing a little closer to heaven." It's also possible that Nevue was at least partly influenced by a trip he took to the South Dakota Badlands, since there are some gorgeous photos of that special place in the CD booklet (also, the album's title certainly matches the images of the vast beauty of that landscape).

With seventeen tracks on the album, I can't possibly detail each one, plus it would be difficult to single out "favorites," except that from a purely personal taste perspective, I favor the more low-key tunes, e.g. the somber, melancholic "Dark Afternoon." However, as I stated, this is not a judgment as much as a matter of personal preference.

On the opening title track, Nevue introduces a rolling melody which features a lovely refrain and chorus played out in several keys, always with a pleasant lower register accompaniment. The music suggests movement, but not necessarily fluid, more so in a jaunty style and most definitely light-hearted (this is one of several tracks that had me scratching my head a bit when Nevue described the tracks on the album as being darker and edgier, but who am I to question the artist on his own descriptions). "The Sound of Sunshine" maintains the cheery mood, albeit toned down a bit, yet still friendly and inviting, while the next number, "Dragonflies," presents a curious and intriguing juxtaposition–the music is uptempo but the mood, while not dark, does indeed have an edge to it. I like what Nevue is doing here with an energetic burst of notes counterbalanced by a lower register "anchor." "Forgotten Places" starts with a forlorn semi-sparse melody, delicate and sad. As the piece progresses it morphs into something with more drama and power, still retaining (via minor key motifs) that sensation of reflection and sadness. Nevue's cover of "Scarborough Fair," while recognizable, is enough of an individual interpretation that even those tired of the tune will find something enjoyable with the pianist's take on the tried and true classic. His version of "The Water Is Wide" (my favorite hymn of all time) showcases Nevue's sensitivity and control of nuance and tone. My only complaint is that the song just cries out for a subtle brushing of orchestral strings, but given the constraint of solo piano, Nevue's playing is heartfelt and emotionally powerful. "Stargazing" has a jaw-droppingly beautiful opening, perfectly capturing the wonder and awe of looking up into the night sky and seeing it alight with millions of twinkling pinpoints. To his credit, Nevue keeps the drama in check, only injecting a little bit as the piece progresses. The subtlety of the song's power evokes the feelings we, as humans, might experience in the presence of the unfolding majesty of the universe.

An artist with David Nevue's solid reputation for delivering great music time and time again needs little confirmation from a critic such as myself, but nonetheless, I compliment him all the same. Some of these pieces go back many years and luckily for his fans the time had finally come for him to bring them to fruition. If any of you are new to this artist (which I highly doubt anyone like that exists), Open Sky would be the ideal starting point to explore his discography, as it presents him and his many styles of playing in a great light (with engineering and mastering by the always excellent Joe Bongiorno). Because the CD comes with beautiful color photography and extensive liner notes about the making of the album and the inspiration for each track, I strongly suggest buying the actual CD, and not the download, but either way will be a treat for your ears if you fancy yourself a solo piano fan.

Open Sky is  available directly from the artist, or from iTunes or Amazon

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