I remember Spencer Brewer as one of the top instrumentalists in the late Eighties and early Nineties when the so-called “new age music” was being championed as the next big thing (before simply becoming a solid-selling style of music). Then Brewer disappeared. Now he is back with his first recording in 16 years and it is just as good as his earlier work. The new two-disc CD package Cinematic is, as the title implies, music that has been used with visuals or could be utilized in future films.
This is all original music by Brewer and some of it has already been used in the cinema. “Heartwood” was commissioned for the movie of the same name starring Jason Robards and Hillary Swank. “Last Chance for Eden” was the title theme for Lee Mun Wah’s documentary film on racism. “Trip to Glory” became the Big Brothers-Big Sisters theme, was also used as Hank Aaron’s theme song and helped sell Arby’s Roast Beef in television commercials. Other tunes have been used in the background on TV shows around the world or underlying broadcasts of the last five Olympics.
Spencer is fairly familiar with creating film and TV music, since he also contributed music to the films “Home Alone 2,” “The Gifts of Grief” and “Color of Fear” (another ground-breaking movie on racism from Lee Mun Wah). Brewer wrote the national theme songs for the YMCA and the Japanese Postal Service. His music has been used on more than 2,000 television shows including “Sex and the City,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Sixty Minutes” and a couple of classic Eighties series: “L.A. Law” and “Thirty Something.”
Brewer has an interesting background. He was an accompanist for modern dance troupes (Deborah Hay, Martha Graham, Daniel Llanes and Suzanne Grace), and also wrote the music for a couple of New York City musicals, “Once Upon A Time” and “Willowmancifoot the Dragon.”
Apparently the reason Brewer has not been putting out CDs is because he started his own recording studio and produced or engineered about 200 albums for people like guitarist Alex de Grassi. Brewer also owns a music store, rebuilds pianos, collects vintage microphones and gramophones, had his own radio show and produced hundreds of concerts.
So let’s discuss Cinematic. The first disc is also called Black & White and it is just acoustic piano played by Brewer with no other accompaniment (except on the last piece). This showcases his talent for writing good melodies and his ability as a pianist. High marks. The other CD is secondarily-titled Technicolor and one cut might feature a string section with English horn, clarinet and French horn, while another composition might be arranged for oboe, acoustic bass, drums, flute and bassoon. Longtime Steve Miller harmonica-player Norton Buffalo pops up on two tracks and reed-virtuoso Paul McCandless is all over the place. A few of the tunes were previously on other Brewer recordings, but the versions here are newly-recorded and fairly different. The new material is well written. Some of the compositions appear both as solo piano pieces as well as group recordings, but sometimes it is hard to even recognize that they are the same melody.
There is a lot of good music on these two discs. I give it a high rating.
Worth 10 Stars!!!
“Cinematic” is the long-awaited and much-anticipated two-CD release from pianist/composer Spencer Brewer, his first release in sixteen years - and it was well worth the wait! Brewer was a chart-topping artist on the Narada label for more than a decade, also earning a reputation as an incredible stage performer, and then he sort of disappeared from the public eye in the later-’90s. Since then, he established Laughing Coyote, a state-of-the-art recording studio nestled among the Northern California redwoods, working behind the scenes with other artists and continuing his work as a mover and shaker in the Northern CA music community. He has also continued to compose new music and arrange older favorites for solo piano and a variety of other instruments.
Which brings us to “Cinematic,” a masterpiece twelve years in the making. The set consists of “Black and White,” an eclectic collection of thirteen original pieces, some new and some older, recorded in all their glory for solo piano; the second disc, “Technicolor,” contains fourteen orchestrated pieces, ten that are also on the solo disc, performed by artists such as Paul McCandless, Jeremy and Joel Cohen, Alex de Grassi, Norton Buffalo, Matt Eakle, and many others.The piano appears prominently in most of the music, and there isn’t a weak track anywhere. The quality of the production is superb from the Salvador Dali cover artwork to the overall sound of the recording. I’ll go as far as saying that this is one of my favorite CDs EVER. I have been a huge fan of Spencer Brewer and his music for about twenty years, and am just delighted that he is back on the scene with such a great album! Brewer is always in his element playing live, injecting a ton of fun into his more upbeat jazz stylings and heart-melting emotion into his more serene work. “Cinematic” captures that spirit like none of his previous recordings have - this is truly Spencer Brewer at his best! Both discs alternate the upbeat with the quieter pieces, creating a varied and exciting listening experience.
I have always wished Brewer had a solo piano album , and “Black and White” is IT. Containing a mind-boggling assortment of musical styles, from the hauntingly beautiful melodies he is known for from his Narada days to the funky jazz and blues he delights audiences with in concert to elegant neo-classical works, this is a true portrait of Brewer the pianist/composer. Titles include Brewer classics such as “Quintessence,” “Fellini’s Carousel,” “Caravanserai,” and “Satie’s Forgotten Dream” as well as newer gems like “Say What?,” “Lupin Swing,” and the sweet and slinky “Blueberry Street.” All of the tracks are newly-recorded and sound as fresh as ever. A delight!
The “Technicolor” disc is equally spellbinding. From the richly-orchestrated “Quintessence” to “Dreamgift” for solo harp, this is again a complete portrait of the artist and his myriad styles of composing and playing. “Morning Glory” is lighthearted and whimsical, “Blueberry Street” is playful and bluesy, “Ode For Patricia” is heartbreakingly sad, and “Say What?” is funky fun. But wait, there’s more! “Outer Limits” is smooth jazz, “Cinematic” is ambient and floating, and “Lupin Swing” is big-band style jazz. Most of the other tracks are the smooth, melodic beauties many fans of Brewer’s recordings expect, and they will not be disappointed.
It is extremely rare to find a collection of twenty-seven pieces without a weak one in the bunch, but this is one of those exceptions. If you are new to Spencer Brewer’s music, this is the album to start with. If you are a longtime fan, you’ll be thrilled with these new recordings and fresh arrangements of old as well as new favorites. This is NOT a compilation of older recordings assembled under a new title. All of the music has been newly recorded for this collection. This could be the release of the year, so check it out!