While Richard Carr is well known by many as a solo pianist, his new release represents more of a collaborative effort. For this album, Richard chose to work with one of the premier producing teams in this genre of music, namely Windham Hill Records founder and Grammy winner, Will Ackerman, along with co-producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Eaton. The recording was done at Will’s iconic Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, where Richard had access to their highly modified Steinway piano, which has graced the tracks of countless albums on the Windham Hill label and many more. In addition, a number of world-class accompanists add their talents to the project.
The opening track is “Ascendance,” and features Richard on piano, of course, accompanied by one of my favorite musicians, Jeff Oster on ambient flugelhorn. The piece has a mellow dreamy ambiance that evokes the feel of kicking back and watching the clouds drift by on a summer day. I love the atmosphere it created and makes for a perfect introduction to the album, drawing the listener into its gentle impressionistic soundscape. This feeling continues into the next song, “Awakening Spirit.” Richard’s melody is gorgeous, and for me quite heart opening. It begins as a piano solo until about half way through, he is joined by long time Will Ackerman collaborator Jill Haley on English horn, cellist Eugene Friesen, who is best known as a member of the Paul Winter Consort, and Tom Eaton, who stepped out from behind the recording console to play bass.
“Looking Inward” is the first of three solo piano pieces on the album. As the title implies, it is appropriately meditative with a nice balance of notes and space to allow the composition to breathe. Also making an appearance in one song on the album is fretless bassist extraordinaire, Michael Manring, who is well known for his work on countless Windham Hill albums and more, including most currently Jeff Oster’s band. On this track entitled “Searching For Balance,” he is joined by cellist Eugene Friesen and Jill Haley on English horn. There is a real storytelling quality to Richard’s expressive melody here that takes the listener along on his search. Although too numerous to mention here, a number of other fine musicians appear on the album, and can be read about in the full-length review at the link below.
To characterize the overall ambiance of this recording, I would flash back to the motto of the Woodstock generation with the words “peace and love.” Richard’s compositions evoke a deep emotional resonance that touches the heart in ways that are both moving and uplifting. His ever-evolving spiritual journey and search for inner peace is reflected in the tranquil mood his music creates. “Matters of Balance” is perfectly titled and clues the listener into the oasis of calm found within its 11 exquisite tracks.
Review by Michael Diamond, Music and Media Focus
To read a full-length feature article about this album, as well as others, please visit: MichaelDiamondMusic.com
Matters of Balance is the seventeenth album from pianist/synthesist/composer/improviser Richard Carr and is the first of his albums to be produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont. Three of the eleven tracks are solo piano and the others feature one or more of the legendary artists who frequently contribute their talents to Ackerman’s productions. I reviewed most of Carr’s solo piano albums from 1998-2005 and he performed a couple of house concerts at my home in CA in 2004, so this new release is something of a reunion. Many of Carr’s earlier recordings were largely free-form improvisations, and while I appreciate the concept, I found that with repeated listens, some of the music meandered a little too much for my taste. So, I have been looking forward to hearing Carr’s music produced in a more controlled (perhaps too strong of a word – “directed” might be better) environment. Overall, I think this is Carr’s best album to date. The only thing holding me back from gushing is that on a few tracks, Carr repeats the same measure or pattern for much too long (to my ears). As a longtime piano teacher, I’m so attuned to carefully listening to the piano that I can’t not pay attention to what it’s doing. When just a few notes or chords are repeated for minutes rather than just a few times, it grabs my attention. Maybe it’s just me, but it bothers me to the point that I have a hard time listening to those tracks more than a couple of times. The rest of the album is excellent.
Matters of Balance begins with “Ascendance,” a gently-flowing duet for piano and flugelhorn (Jeff Oster). The freedom and spontaneity of this piece demonstrate how beautifully Carr plays from the heart. The bittersweet “Awakening Spirit” includes Jill Haley (English horn), Eugene Friesen (cello), and Tom Eaton (bass) in addition to the piano. Graceful and reflective, it provides a soothing massage for the mind. “Looking Inward” is the first piano solo that comes from a place deep within. Melancholy yet passionate, this one is a favorite. Jeff Oster and Charlie Bisharat (violin) help to give “Pure Love” wings. “Song For Sy” features Premik Russell Tubbs on soprano sax – always a wonderful addition! “The Flow” is the piece that really bothers me because the left hand pattern on the piano repeats for the whole piece – more than 5 1/2 minutes. Even Charlie B. can’t save this one for me! “Searching For Balance” begins as a piano solo that could be subtitled “Soul Searching.” Haley and Friesen add a very haunting quality to the piece – my favorite on the album. The second piano solo, “Serenity,” makes great use of either reverb or the piano dampers to give the piece a feeling of open space as well as solitude. I really like this one, too! “Into Balance,” the third piano solo, overflows with intense emotion and passion – my favorite of the solos. The appropriately-titled “Inner Peace” features Carr and Haley and brings the album to a quiet and serene close. Sigh….
It’s great to catch up with Richard Carr after all these years, and I think his new music has mellowed and matured considerably. Matters of Balance is available from RichardCarr.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Check it out!
Review by Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com
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