Rob Schwimmer, solo artist, in demand keyboard side and session man and one half of the indelibly infectious duo Polygraph Lounge, has released his first all piano disc, (caveat, there is one overdubbed duet with theremin), and it is an aural feast, if a bit too eclectic for its own good at times. Taken in one sitting this disc has a tendency to overwhelm the listener with its jumps in style and genre. I advise sipping from this fount a little bit the first time through, the better to allow the full flavor of its riches to resonate on the musical palette, as the music is so well written and performed. Or better yet, do listen to it all at once. Allow the stylistic shifting to overwhelm you to a point of near numbness and then, when the senses have settled back down, listen again in smaller, more savory sips. Yet if there is an overriding sense of architecture throughout, it is Mr. Schwimmer's unabashed romanticism and that ain't a bad thing in this post-modernly jaded age!
All of the music on the disc is tempered with surges of passion and commitment on the part of Mr. Schwimmer. The pieces run the gamut from wistfully pungent and evocative melodicism to quick silvery angular minimalist tendencies. The highlights abound with juxtapositions of mood and sentiment. The Suite of tracks 2 through 4 embodies driving, insistent ostinatos (in the appropriately entitled Ostinato) to the tense lyricism of Orpheus and the impassioned fantasy of Waltz For Clara (Clara Rockmore, who was the world's most adept and committed practitioner of the theremin). Two separately titled pieces are akin in their deep connection to things familial and loving. The first, I Would Talk With My Dad, is an elegantly bittersweet internal conversation with very strong melodic content. The second, Holding You In My Arms, is a fondly warm embrace that ebbs and flows with undulant passion.
Tracks 8 through 11 are part of a set simply entitled Miniatures. They range from the angularity of Conversation to the hummingbird evanescence of Quicksilver to the insistent nature of Repeated Notes, a seeming exercise or etude if you will, and finally to the title track Beyond The Sky, an elegant motif with elongated elegiac chordal structure.
Mr. Schwimmer indulges himself in four variation/extrapolations of standard Great American Songbook repertoire. Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime; Never Never Land; All The Things You Are and Stormy Weather and it is here that a different facet of his genius is unfurled. These songs are vigorously re-imagined, with a great sense of freedom and expression, from the full-blooded romanticism of Buddy to the thick rumbling chords in Stormy Weather, underpinning the arpeggiated flights of melodic fancy above. Flirting with modernism and abstraction Mr. Schwimmer's renditions never lose the fulsome spice of the original tunes.
I wonder whether Atmospheres is an homage to Gyorgy Ligeti (albeit composed and recorded before Mr. Ligeti's untimely death), as it captures the essence of Mr. Ligeti's oeuvre. It is certainly moody and atmospheric, so Mr. Schwimmer's title is suitably apt.
Inside sounds like the piano has been "prepared" and whether it has or not is irrelevant in its evocation of Cageian abstraction and the sound world it evokes.
Waltz for Clara (theremin version) is a more fully developed than its incarnation in the earlier suite. This duet version with piano inhabits the best of both sound worlds, that of Mr. Schwimmer's imagination as well as evoking Clara Rockmore's eerily effective and expressively singing abilities on the theremin. I found this number highly effective in whetting my appetite for another album of all theremin music, as Mr. Schwimmer is now one of the world's leading proponents of that notoriously difficult instrument.
Again, the eclecticism of this album might be off putting to some but I found it intriguing and aurally exciting. So stick with it or, as suggested above, take small sips. I welcome and applaud a sensibility like Mr. Schwimmer's; a composer who writes and performs with a sensibility that resides in a musical landscape that holds to no boundaries.