Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

Michael's Music

Michael Jones

Narada Records

  1990

www.pianoscapes.com

 

 

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I hold the music of Canadian pianist Michael Jones very close to my heart. There is something about his style- that ever-so-delicate touch that I find irresistible, and his heavenly compositions draw me in every time. Present me with an extra long CD containing a hundred piano solos from 100 different musicians, and I am fairly certain I could successfully identify the piece by Michael. He makes the keys twinkle with happiness, and it is as if he and the piano are as one. Unrushed, he allows time for each piece to develop, and each track is like a story in itself.

This CD, containing eight of his most loved tracks from the 1980s, showcases his very special and quite unique technique. If I were to say that the CD is over 74 minutes long, but contains just eight tracks, it might give the reader some idea as to the craftsmanship involved. A lot of work goes into each track, but the actual recording is spontaneous and, once this is complete, to some extent Michael puts the music aside, and starts working on his next piece.

Few CDs contain linear notes as comprehensive as this one. A three page biography at the start, a twelve page autobiography (focusing on music!) followed by eight pages of notes regarding the tracks. The end result is that the listener feels she or he has an understanding of the music, and is able to appreciate it more as a result. Michael is an excellent story-teller, and his notes are a joy to read.

The CD opens with "Mexican Memories", taken from the "Seascapes" album. Typical Jones, the track meanders on its journey and offers total relaxation. In the notes, he says, "Music is the language of imagination. I created winter music in the summer, and I transported myself to the plains and mountains and the ocean. Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartford, Connecticut, Dimitri Tiomkin composed the music for High Noon in New York.... and I have never been to Mexico."      

"Wildflowers" is quite unusual in that it features both English horn, flute, oboe and cello as accompaniment to the piano. The English horn (and oboe) are played by Nancy Rumbel, Karen Doe plays the flute, and David Darling is on cello. Most of Michael's compositions on CDs are solo-piano, whereas others feature piano and cello. The combination of flute and piano works wonderfully well, and the result is a very uplifting, happy track, which captures the joyous movement of the dancing flowers. Michael explains how each of us have our own "special place" where we can be inspired and rejuvenated. He refers to these as "gifts of the wilderness". He goes on to explain.... "As I sit at the piano, my imagination visits these places, and each one is filled with the images of wildflowers. Whether they stand quietly in the forest or dance in the midday sun, their beauty commands my attention. As they open their petals to greet the day, I can almost hear their joyful cry.

Track 3 is the piece of music that set the ball rolling for Michael. "Pianoscapes", the title track of the album he first released for Narada (and indeed Narada's first release) perhaps only came about thanks to the gentle persuasion of one of the guests that Michael was enlightening with one of his educational programmes. Following the day's work, the group went en-masse to a local restaurant. After the meal, Michael was asked to play the piano. Following his performance of "Pianoscapes", one of the conference members who had been listening from another room, entered and asked Michael if that had been him playing on the piano. When Michael replied that indeed it was him, the man encouraged him to record the piece. Michael did just that around a year later. The ten minute track takes many different directions during its journey. To this day, he still tinkers with it. As Michael himself says, "I have lived with and performed this selection longer than any of my other recorded compositions. Over the years, it continues to surprise me. An added nuance here, or a variation on an inner voicing there. It continues to refine and simplify. I learned not to try to complete a piece too quickly, otherwise I miss the jewel inside- the essence of what the music has to say to me." 

"After the Rain" is quite possibly Michael's most well-known piece of music. The piano is accompanied by cello, oboe and English horn. Listen to the rain drops at the start, as he twinkles with the piano. Soft, gentle, soothing. Heavenly rain indeed. The piece is in three sections, with slight variations in each. Just as a shower would be slightly different each time, so are the sections of this piece. The story behind the inspiration for this piece is utterly captivating. Having spent several summers living in a restored barn in north-eastern Ontario, Michael decided to visit an auction at a nearby town. The local church had purchased a new electronic organ, and the original pump organ was for sale. Michael reflected on the time he had spent with his Grandmother as she had taught him how to play such an instrument, and- impressed with its fine wood carving- he tested the bellows and decided to purchase it. Several of Michael's friends assisted in the none-too-easy task of securing the organ into the back of an open pick-up truck. With no room in the driver's cab for them all, Michael was suddenly struck by an idea. He decided to sit in the back with the organ and play it en-route to the barn! Michael continues the story.... "It had rained that day. A heavy mist lifted off the fields. As the truck moved slowly through the countryside, the rays of the setting sun created a hazy, golden glow across the green fields and forests. I watched as people, seemingly suspended in air because of the mist, worked the soil in their fields and weeded their gardens. As the wind blew across my face, and I drank in the beauty of the scenes, I played- and rich organ music filled the air." And so "After the Rain" was born. You can listen to the entire track by clicking the Piano Heaven logo at the bottom of this review.

Track 5, "Sunshine Canyon" is special to me because it combines the touch of Michael Jones's piano with the gorgeous cello playing of David Darling. The ensuing music is magical. There is something special about the combination of piano and cello. It is as if the two instruments were made for one another. The track is taken from the much-loved, but sadly Out-of-Print "Amber" album (available directly from Michael Jones). The album was recorded in Sunshine Canyon, overlooking the Boulder Valley and the Great Divide in Colorado. The two improvised together, initially with Michael playing grand cascades on the piano, dueling with David's broad sweeps of the bow on the cello. However, things took a different direction when Michael and David started to experiment with a gentler combination. Michael takes up the story: "I began to develop a wistful piano theme while David plucked a soft pizzicato. For hours we explored its many nuances and variations. At times, the piano and cello blended so completely, we thought we heard a third instrument. The music was like a meditation. I find that creations often come by surprise. Ideas simply appear. "Sunshine Canyon" came to us in this way. It's quite possible if the tape recorder had malfunctioned, "Sunshine Canyon" would have disappeared just as quickly!" 

"Song for Eia" is very special to me, and is dedicated to a brave young lady "who lost her life in unfortunate circumstances." In fact, if push came to shove, then I would say that it is my favourite piece of music in my entire collection of over ten thousand piano tracks. From start to finish, it just captivates me with its beauty. My favourite part is towards the end, when there is a plethora of notes and the piece becomes rather rhythmical and upbeat. The piece was inspired by stormy evenings at Michael's lake-front house in rural Ontario- and Michael was a fan of such evenings as it got his creative juices working. He recalls how the air was moist with an approaching storm, and the waves were lapping up on the pebble shore. "The night had its own song," says Michael, as he recalls that evening. He had to stop frequently to wipe the dampness from the keys. The theme came quickly. Michael explains.... "With my left hand, I played a swelling ostinato pattern, which captured the slow but steady movement of the waves outside. As the melody developed, a worm, moist breeze wafted through the screen porch, rustling the leaves of the maple tree outside. When the rain started pattering on the roof, I answered with slow, cascading arpeggios. As the final section of the piece came into form, the rain and wind sang together, creating their own duet. In the distance, the thunder rumbled across the lake, easing the tension in the air, and the music gained a full and rhythmic quality." It is this part of the composition that I love dearly. The piece was originally entitled, "Night-Wind", something that many of us will have experienced in the past. Bravo, Michael!

"Sunrise" is the penultimate track and is taken from "Magical Child". It features David Darling on cello, Nancy Rumble on oboe and English horn, and Karen Doe on flute. As ever, the music that follows is very relaxing and meanders one way and then another. I particularly like it where the piano and cello combine at around five minutes into the piece. This track came about whilst Michael was playing early one morning on a patio deck, where ducks had gathered in the reeds to bathe. The opening passage of this piece seems to capture their playfulness. Michael was mesmerised by the sounds of nature around him. In his notes, he refers to this as a "symphony". Michael watched, listened and played. Once again, the inspiration came from his surroundings.

The closing track is, fittingly enough, "Endings". This is taken from the "Pianoscapes" album. Finding himself in completely different surroundings to that which inspired "Sunrise", Michael took in the sights and sounds of city life, courtesy of a fellow musician's apartment which came Michael's way one Winter. He was fascinated by the city at night. This is a laid-back piece- one for a late night New Orleans bar. It is the perfect end to the perfect CD.  

I cannot recommend this CD highly enough. If you like melodic, relaxing music played by a master of the genre, then this is for you. It is the perfect introduction to Michael's early music. Since then, he has gone on to record and release several more albums. Michael is no longer with Narada, and releases his music independently through his Pianoscapes website, which also stocks all his CDs, including the ones that are out of print. His most recent effort, "Almost Home", released in Summer 2006, is particularly good and is featured in the Piano Heaven pages. "Michael's Music- A Michael Jones Retrospective" receives my highest recommendation.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael's Music: A Michael Jones ...

Michael's Music:

A Michael Jones Retrospective

Michael Jones

 

 

 

 

Michael Jones Pianoscapes - Transforming Leadership, Awakening the Commons of the Imagination

Michael Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Michael Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to

After the Rain

Click the piano