It is all too easy for critics to approach their initial acquaintance with an artist in terms of who x-composer, y-conductor, or z-instrumentalist sounds like. Consider the Philadelphia based pianist-composer-improviser Bob Gold, for example. I’d wager a hefty sum that most critics assigned to review the present disc invariably will slip into a categorizing comfort zone. Within moments after the title track’s easy, welcoming lope gets established, watch the critics’ sensory lightbulbs spell out “Keith Jarrett.” Or take Track Six, “Questions,” where the circular melodies and telling breath pauses evoke the best of George Winston’s “folk-piano.” Once jazz or new age reviewers get wind of Bob Gold’s classical background, they’ll liken his gentle lyricism, delicately wrought textures, and piquant harmonies to Spanish Impressionism, particularly the works of Federico Mompou. Indeed, on his first CD, Departures, Gold offered an ingenuous improvisation upon Mompou’s Musica Callada #1.
However, once you check your label-making proclivities at the door, sit down, and listen to this music in the present, you’ll be as caught up as I was in the subtle variety and assiduous through line that informs these seventeen pieces. Much of this has to do with Gold’s impressive command of all things pianistic. He can scamper and scintillate when he chooses, of course, yet fast fingerwork is only one aspect of virtuosity. Notice his wide variety of touch and tone color, his sophisticated pedaling, and his ability to phrase like a singer, as if the piano had lungs and vocal chords, rather than hammers and strings. The late, great classical pianist Claudio Arrau always told his students never to play a melodic line with the same dynamic throughout, because the human voice does not do so. When Gold begins a piece with a sparse melodic line, or simple two-part counterpoint (try Regrets or Summer’s End), his sound manages to fill the room, no matter how loud or soft. As the textures fill out with carefully placed bass notes, gradual shifts in registers, and full-throated chords, the effect is not unlike a cocoon expanding into a butterfly. Having a beautifully regulated concert grand at his disposal doesn’t hurt either!
Best as it may be to experience True Love & Other Stories from beginning to end, I can’t help but pinpoint individual movements one surely can appreciate out of context. Check out the marvelous two-handed linear discourse throughout The Brief Dance of 2 Restless Hearts (track 13), or The Geometry of Love (track 16), whose disarming simplicity is offset by its angular melodic curves and canny silences. Or listen to Infinity of a Starlit Night (track 9), where the piano’s highest octaves sing out with a more sustained, mellifluous quality than usual. I also like how Gold intensifies catchy motives with quasi-imitative counterlines (think of Marvin Gaye’s radical double-tracked vocals on What’s Going On) that never sound busy nor, superfluous. First Love (track 3) is a good example of what I mean. Perhaps this is what Gold refers to when he speaks of wanting to get more inside the piano in a conversational way. Fortunately, the conversations always include the listener.
Jed Distler is a pianist/composer and artistic director of ComposerCollorative Inc, which can be found at www.composercollab.org His piano transcriptions formed the basis of Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s Coversations With Bill Evans album on London/Decca records, and include books on Art Tatum and Bill Evans.
About eight months separated the first and last sessions of improvisation preserved here. Over that time, my children changed in miraculous ways, my family aged, elections passed, and I improvised. We lost someone special in the family, and we grieved and tried to heal. We took several road trips across the country, each trip filling me with fresh images, landscapes and memory. At times, improvisation seemed like an odd combination of the frivolous and the absolutely essential.
All of this material was improvised at the moment of recording. I had no sketches or charts to work from, but there was an intent to make the instrument speak and sing. In improvisation and in my approach to the piano, I’ve learned from both jazz and classical artists. More recently, I’ve absorbed some of the spirit and intimacy of singer/song-writers, in both pop and folk circles. This is a coming full-circle for me, as I began improvising in college inspired by the popular singer/songwriters of day. That expressive connection of vocal and instrument is something that I strive for as a pianist in telling my stories.
stories and titles
Some titles that I’ve used for these improvisations come from stories I’ve loved in the literature of fiction. The writing and teaching of Nabokov, Turgenev, Cheever, Malamud, Fuentes, and Calvino among others, has taught me invaluable lessons about what it means to tell a story. I view the titles as jumping-on points for the listener who might want a handle for the work. Then, hopefully, the story becomes the listener’s.
The recording sessions were done in the summer of 2003 and the spring of 2004. I used 2 B&K (now DPA) 4012 microphones spaced in a near-coincident position, the signal passing through Mogami cables into Millennia Media preamps. The resolution was 24 bit and was maintained throughout the mix. The amount of detail from a relatively close miking becomes apparent at higher volume playback or through headphones. Every pedal release carries a faint airy ping and there are assorted bench creakings. A few unaccountable sounds I attribute to my cat. The piano was a Steinway D Concert Grand that had been used extensively in the Philadelphia area before it was “retired” in 1997.
The album was mastered at Sterling Sound in NYC by Greg Calbi.
The piano tuner and technician was Shuang Xi-Gong.
Technical help in the digital domain was given generously by Rich Crawford.
Listen to Steve Tortorici's interview with Bob on the WUWF FM's Morning Classics show, July 14th, 2006:
Or go to www.WUWF.org and find their web index. Under that index, find "Artist Files" and choose your mode of listening or download for the interview.
Read Franco Mannarini's interview with Bob on the station Radionotte, Sardinia, Italy:
http://www.radionotte.net, enter the site and click on "Interviews."