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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
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Summer Suite, Vol.1
By Chad Lawson w/ Jim Brock
Label: Hillset Records
Released 6/21/2010
Summer Suite, Vol.1 tracks
1. Heart of a Lion
2. Summer Suite - I
3. Summer Suite - II
4. Summer Suite - III
5. Summer Suite - IV
6. Summer Suite - V
7. Summer Suite - VI
8. Summer Suite - VII
9. Summer Suite - VIII
10. Summer Suite - IX
Summer Suite. Vol.1
Sometimes a recording comes along, accompanied by a description in a press release, setting a certain expectation in the mind of a reviewer. When I read that Summer Suite was, more or less, a series of live-in-the-studio improvisations between pianist Chad Lawson and percussionist Jim Brock, I was skeptical. I imagined the results would be either avant garde-ish noodling or just the opposite, i.e. mainstream tripe for which "vanilla" would be an exaggeration. I was, unexpectedly, thoroughly surprised and summarily delighted with this wonderful maxi-EP (32 minutes) when I played it the first time. Here was music that was both adventurous and intriguing, challenging the listener to "keep up" yet wholly listenable as mere entertainment. This being Lawson's CD more than Brock (although the latter's contributions cannot be over-stated), the real tip of the hat needs to go to Lawson, whose playing is all over the map in the best possible sense, with changes in mood, time signature, tempo, intensity and style flying by at a virtuoso's pace.

The CD opens with the only "titled" track, the energetic Heart of a Lion, a speedfest of melody and rhythm that will get your blood racing if you are fan of fast tempo piano playing. The actual "Summer Suite" (comprised of nine tracks featuring running times from 4:02 to 1:14) follows, unfolding like a multi-colored flower unfurling its pedals to the sun. Part I offers a reflective, impressionistic piece which is sans percussion for the most part. Each successive part of the "Suite" flows into the next uninterrupted (the transitions are sonically invisible, though, so leap-frogging over successive tracks will not prove jarring). Part II picks up the pace, but only at times, with a more pronounced sprinkling of percussion, such as hand drums (I think I hear a djembe) and cymbals. Note that since this is a non-overdub recording, and there is only the one percussionist, you will not hear three types of percussion at once. Knowing this ahead of hearing it, I suspected the singular percussion would not prove "interesting" enough, but I was dead wrong. Brock always grabs just the right instrument to color Lawson's lead melodies with an entertaining wrinkle, a helping of drama and impetus, or a flavorful embellishment. While I tend to toss around the term "simpatico" in my duo/ensemble recording reviews, when you take into account the improvised nature of Summer Suite, you can't help but be mighty impressed at how the two artists never "step on each other." When I read on Lawson's website that the two had never previously played together at all, I was even more blown away at what the two had wrought on this recording.

As you listen to the other parts of “Summer Suite,” you should be able to discern the over-riding musical theme that Lawson has woven into the tracks, a theme which helps unify the recording as a cohesive whole, not just a bundle of separate, albeit like-minded, pieces. Whether one favors the subtle melancholy of Part VI, the wistful introspection of Part IV, or the upbeat cheer on the closing Part IX, Summer Suite is an enchanting listening experience. It was a smart move to have the tracks meld into one another, and the 32 minute duration seems to fly by in an instant, which is a true testament to just how good the music actually is.

Chad Lawson plans on releasing three more "seasonal" recordings, teaming with a different accompanist for each one. I am eager to hear what this promising and talented pianist has in store for "autumn," "winter" and "spring." I've never been a fan of all four seasons (living in Minnesota), but I may have to change my mind in that regard!
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/8/2010
 
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