||In a career spanning decades during which his music graced movies, TV and Broadway productions, it seems odd to “welcome” Peter Calandra to the world of contemporary instrumental music, but in a way, he is a relative newcomer to this scene that I have been covering for 20 years. Starting with 2013’s Ashokan Memories (a wonderful collection of semi-minimalist solo pianoscapes) he has released roughly an album a year - in 2014, Inner Circle and in 2015, First Light. The latter two showcased his strong versatility as each contained an assortment of instrumentals which touched on everything from jazz to chill out to electronica to new age tone poems.
Which brings us to 2017 and his fourth solo recording in this phase of his career, The Road Home. Calandra has narrowed his focus and the result is a remarkably cohesive album – which is no knock on his previous two releases which were excellent in their own right. However, by tightening his vision down to more or less two styles of music, Calandra has produced a superb collection of ten tunes that had me hitting my CD player’s “REPEAT” button more than once. All but two of the tracks on The Road Home are one of two styles. One of those being breezy jazz that reminds me of Dave Grusin’s music during his ‘80s and early ‘90s period (albums such as Out of the Shadows and Mountain Dance) as well as some of Pat Metheny’s songs, notably from the album Pat Metheny Group). The other style features sparsely beautiful cinematic orchestral soundscapes featuring reverbed piano wedded to lush strings, usually colored with a subtle amount of melancholy, but only a touch. The sole exceptions to these motifs are the opening “The New Dawn” and the closing “Distant Dreams.” The former evokes the titular reference with a continuously building orchestral crescendo, which has a more overt neo-classical orientation, as well as featuring Joy Askew’s gorgeous wordless vocals, while the latter is a solo piano tune comprised of a spot-on blending of soft blues and light jazz riffs.
Throughout all three previous Calandra albums, his strong suit has always been his great way with melody and hooks. The Road Home is chock full of this, maybe even more so. The production quality and engineering by Calandra himself is textbook and, as before, his keyboard textures, strings, rhythms, and instrumentation are of top notch quality and are as deftly woven into the core piano melodies as anyone else recording today can do. I never got around to giving any of the other three mentioned albums full ZMR reviews (only reviewing them in Retailing Insight) and for that I am regretful. But here I am to sing the praises of The Road Home which are plentiful.
While I love the narrower focus of this album and how it makes a relatively straightforward musical statement, I don’t want you to think it is monochromatic or that the moods, tempos, and styles stay completely static. I can’t adequately convey in words why I consider this to be so cohesive an album, although after at least ten playings, I will hold fast to that statement. In addition, whether it is the engineering or mix, some of the songs sound so purely cinematic that one pines for accompanying visuals to further enhance the listening pleasure. Other than the two aforementioned exceptions, the other eight tracks hew closely to that mixture of either cheery jazziness or orchestral/piano tone poems.
“Mi Amore,” the second song, is on the jazzy side of things with a midtempo-to-slow tempo, subtle drum rhythms, gorgeous synth textures and strings, and an evocatively romantic lead piano melody which slowly ramps up to mildly energetic during the bridge. “”Morning Dove” is the first reverbed piano tone poem, enhanced with warm drone textures at the outset. The reverb effect casts the song in a soft reflective mood blended with, perhaps, very soft sadness. This track emphasizes how adroit Calandra is with his keyboards, especially his ambient textures and his strings. He could give clinics on how to layer everything just right. The title track features a low key but lively refrain on piano and a delightfully relaxed beat, perfectly capturing the feeling of motoring home on a two lane blacktop, perhaps with the top down and the blue sky dappled with puffy white clouds. “Night Into Day” offers up a more reflective tone-poem-like approach to the piano melody with the upper register notes accented by shimmering tonalities and a subtle brushing of muted chorales – heavenly beautiful.
“The Cat’s Eye,” “Points In The Sky,” “Nocturnal Moods,” and “At First Sight,” are all equally delightful as the ones which precede them. Calandra’s strings and reverbed piano on “Points In The Sky” send shivers down my spine, so perfectly creating an image of stars winking into view as the sky darkens at the end of a wonderful day. “Distant Dreams” ends the album with the only solo piano number, as noted earlier, and it’s an enjoyable, subdued conclusion to this superb recording.
I don’t know how Peter Calandra can possibly top The Road Home, that’s how exquisite this release is. However, something tells me that with his abundant talent and broad musical vision, anything is possible.