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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
Bill Binkelman is a long-time icon in the industry.
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Within Memory
By Craig Urquhart
Label: Heart Earth Music
Released 4/1/2010
Within Memory tracks
1. In the Afternoon
2. The Garden
3. Before the Canvas
4. Rapture
5. Laid Back
6. October Bright Blue
7. Low Tide
8. Summer Twilight
9. Prairie Flowers
10. Within Memory
Within Memory
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 cliche, 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.

Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelmen on 6/30/2010
 
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