Friday, March 22, 2024


Kevin Keller Music (2024)

Two things Kevin Keller will never be accused of (a) being one-dimensional or (b) being predictable. Over the arc of his career, he has released many critically acclaimed albums covering a variety of genres. One would think he might have exhausted the possibilities, but obviously not. Evensong presents the listener with yet another aspect of his composing and performing persona, and while the music on the recording is a marked departure in some ways, it also reinforces Keller's commitment to creating music that engages the listener on a deeper level.

Evensong sees the prolific composer pushing his envelope in a startling new direction - vocal choral music, which he pairs with piano, EM, and some interesting rhythms. Half of the melodies on the albums were composed by the renowned Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century and four of the album's eight tracks also feature the original plainchant melodies including Latin language lyrics. Now, if that doesn't pique your interest, I’m not sure what would.

To fully appreciate how adventurous (yet accessible) Evensong is, you'll need either good speakers and a quiet room or headphones, because a lot happens within the depths of the mix. I am sure this album could be enjoyed while casually listening, but if you can carve out the time, immerse yourself in it and prepare to be amazed.

Keller works with four vocalists and a three-piece string ensemble. The vocalists display an ethereal quality, and the string artists all play with uncommon artistry. Keller is his usual stellar self, performing on a variety of keyboards and when he uses church organ, it's something truly special.

Evensong is not just a homage to Hildegard of Bingen, it's more that her compositions represent a jumping off point for Keller to expand upon. The liner notes spell out his intent, and rather than sum them up, here they are as written: "Conceptually, Keller takes the Early Christian idea of canonical hours (divisions of the day being marked by music) and interprets it as a microcosm of life and its procession from beginning to end—and beyond. The procession also takes us through the church modes, the scales (based on those of the ancient Greeks) used before major and minor took over in the Baroque period: Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Dorian, and returning to Phrygian. Each track has a distinct character based on the varying order of half and whole steps in its chosen mode…"

No matter how you define it or describe them, the seven tracks on Evensong unfurl into a wondrous musical canvas, resplendent with a gentle sense of drama, and flowing with a feeling of being overcome with the beauty of it all. That Keller finds a way to tastefully integrate disparate elements, such as the percolating electronic rhythms on "Evensong 3," or the opening salvo of early EM synths on "Evensong 4," is a testament to his original approach to this project. These background keyboards sometimes take center stage, sometimes they are accompanied by the string trio, and sometimes all three aspects (vocals, strings, keyboards) all fuse into something extraordinary. Keller’s unpredictable approach on the album can surprise you, too, e.g., performing mostly solo piano on the plaintive "Evensong 6," achieving a sad but lovely moment.  "Evensong 8" concludes the album in a spacemusic vein with minimal synth accompaniment over gently lilting vocals.

I have lauded Kevin Keller in my reviews of his earlier works, such as the first one I reviewed, Santiago’s Dream, the brilliant in absentia, the day I met myself, and one of his more recent albums, Shimmer. He is one of those artists who always seem to merit superlatives when I review his/her music. What can I say? I’m a sucker for musical brilliance!

All music composed by Kevin Keller except Plainchant on tracks 1, 3, 4, and 7 composed by Hildegard of Bingen
Album produced by Kevin Keller
Recorded by Robert L. Smith and Sam Stein at Reservoir Studios, NYC
Engineer’s Assistant: Deeba Montazeri
Additional engineering by Richard Bozic
Mixed by Kevin Keller at Mariner’s Gate Studio, NYC
Mastered by Chris Frasco in Nashville, TN

Art direction by Kevin Keller
Cover image by Alex Turton
Artist photo by Pavlo Terekhov

All music performed by Kevin Keller except as follows:
Danya Katok: soprano
Elisa Singer Strom: soprano
Katherine Wessinger: soprano
Wendy Baker: soprano
Sarah Zun: violin
Angela Pickett: viola
Laura Metcalf: cello





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