Heart Earth Music (2010)
With so many solo piano CDs released in an unending stream through the years (trust me, I am not exaggerating), I sometimes wonder what distinguishes one from the other, except for outrageously different playing styles. It's frustrating to a reviewer who can sometimes opine not much more than "Well, this is a nice piano CD." However, when I listened to Craig Urquhart's latest release, Within Memory, it was like taking a sip of cool crisp water from a pure mountain stream. As on his past CDs I've reviewed, I was reminded (during the opening track, "In The Afternoon") why Urquhart is one of my favorites in this extremely crowded subgenre. His superb control of nuance, crafting such beautiful yet restrained heartfelt compositions, painting one warm, comforting musical portrait after another—well, it's like coming home again.
Urquhart's piano music exemplifies "quiet time" yet without resorting to all out minimalism (a la Winston and others). Each of the ten tracks on Within Memory sculpts out a separate, unique musical niche, drawing the listener into different emotional evocations. Subtle differences at times, granted, but I was never once bored or came away thinking "This is repetitious." Instead, the overall continuity of the music (no doubt owed largely to the artist's consistency of volume and tempo) makes the album play "through" almost as if it was a deliberate suite of pieces.
Duration of the tracks vary considerably, from the barely three-minute opening "In The Afternoon" to the expansive 8:29 of "Low Tide." I'll be honest that enduring a seven to eight minute solo piano song can be perceived as a daunting task. Yet, Urquhart glides through a lengthy piece, such as the seven-plus minute long quasi-bluesy "Laid Back," so effortlessly that the trip speeds by, helped by the song's refrain (which mixes the aforementioned blues with a tinge of deep sorrow), by anchoring the cut with its memorable hook. "Low Tide" is the previously noted eight and half minute track and it's a beautiful but somber meditation. Even a song with the title "Rapture" is low-key, containing elements of romance and nostalgia—warm and inviting but sadly sweet, too. Urquhart's melodies are such wonderful things to hear, never reduced to cliché, melodrama, or schmaltz, and always favoring a "less is more" approach, whereby pyrotechnics are shunned and replaced by a control over subtlety which I wish other pianists would learn.
I don't know whether it's intentional or not, but the cover image of Craig Urquhart (portrayed in a sepia-toned photograph) shows him dressed in a leather flight jacket with a white silk scarf around his neck—a classic romantic image from a bygone era if there ever was one. I can just imagine his "character," a long forgotten barnstormer, taking flight over the farmlands of the Midwest at twilight, chasing the sun into the west, while far below, children gaze up in wonder at the shadow against the fading light of the night sky. If this CD's music and cover art can inspire such visions for me, well, you can well imagine how high my recommendation is, namely, my highest possible.
Zone Music Reporter
2010 / Heart Earth Music
Craig Urquhart has one of the smoothest and gentlest touches of any pianist I’m aware of. He truly personifies Debussy’s instruction to play the piano as if it didn’t have hammers. While Urquhart’s music is not complicated or flashy, his velvet touch and the depth of the emotion he expresses put him into a category of his own. Urquhart has very extensive classical training and was Leonard Bernstein’s personal assistant for the last five years of the maestro’s life. Of Urquhart’s music, Bernstein wrote: “It has a deceptive simplicity and honesty that is rarely to be heard in contemporary writing. His tonal approach is not merely sincere, but genuinely moving with a private beauty of its own.” Within Memory is Urquhart’s eighth album to date, and it contains some of his most evocative music. The relatively slow tempo of the music gives the album a consistency that makes it work as background music, but the music so deserves to be heard with full attention - perhaps with eyes closed in a darkened room without distractions. The memories depicted in the music are deeply personal yet universal, so listening to Urquhart’s recollections is much like having a very soulful conversation with a loved one.
Within Memory begins with “In the Afternoon,” a piece that overflows with contentment and warmth. The conversational melody conveys something familiar. “The Garden” is one of my favorites. Gently flowing and oh so graceful, it creates a lovely portrait of the serenity of being in a beautiful garden. I absolutely love “Before the Canvas.” Darker, more introspective, and deeply passionate, it seems to flow from the very core of Urquhart’s being. Stunning! “Laid Back” goes in a little different direction. Hinting of Erik Satie and George Gershwin, there are touches of modern classical minimalism blended with soulful blues - and it really works! “October Bright Blue” is a celebration of an autumn day in the Northeast - warm, crisp, and carefree. “Low Tide” is another favorite. Slow and meandering like the movement of water in tide pools and along the shore, it quietly and gracefully tells its story while soothing the soul of the listener. “Prairie Flowers” is in constant motion like a meadow of wildflowers moving to the rhythms of a gentle breeze. The title song is gorgeous, caressing your thoughts and memories as you reflect on and relive moments of your life.
Within Memory is a masterpiece of quiet, soulful piano solos. Craig Urquhart’s many fans will embrace this new music, and if you have not heard Craig’s music before, this is a wonderful place to start! Within Memory is available from www.craigurquhart.com, Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!