MICHAEL JOSEPH, Into the Blue
The first thought that strikes me as I continue listening to pianist/keyboardist composer Michael Joseph’s extraordinarily sweeping, emotional and melodic debut album Into the Blue is that it’s timeless. It’s like a symphony for our time, texturing gorgeous heart centered piano melodies with lush, soaring strings that underscore and emphasize the main themes, but often are used as launching off points into mystical realms all their own.
The reason it’s important to emphasize that the imaginative artist’s 13-track work is timeless is that while it’s perfectly capable of tugging viscerally on the soul in 2019, it also harkens back to an era in new age/contemporary instrumental music that is dear to myself and genre fans who were listening to the popular sounds of the genre in the early 90s. In those days, pianists and orchestral masters like Yanni, John Tesh and David Lanz ruled both charts and hearts with the same kind of triumphant, alternately sweetly delicate and rambunctiously buoyant blend of ivory and string section magic. Another artist I loved back then was Argentine pianist Raul Di Blasio, who mixed that dual vibe with a distinctively exotic Latin flair.
The genesis of Into the Blue was a conversation Michael had with his wife Beth. During a break from arranging dance music for a specific project, he said, “I wish I could compose music. I know I can arrange, but to compose would be such a gift.” She replied, “Have you ever tried for more than ten minutes?” With her encouragement, he seated himself at the piano for two hours and emerged with the graceful, emotion and movement filled, “Awakened.” Released as a single in 2015, the original track appeared on the popular New Age compilation album Sounds from the Circle VII. Re-recorded for Into the Blue, the tune sounds like it was composed for angels to dance to, builds slowly from its piano foundations to the rich richly textured symphonic elements.
From there, Michael created the transcendent collection simply by taking an introspective look at his life and inside his soul. His inspiration comes from a variety of sources that help us navigate through the window of his blue eyes (imagery which inspired the album title) into the intimate and far off regions of his soul. Sometimes, the songs emerge from very intimate emotions connected to a very specific life event, as on the lyrical, soulful solo piano gem “Another Chance.” He wrote the piece after Beth had experienced a traumatic life threatening health issue where he thought he might lose her. It’s literally about another chance to appreciate their time together, and another chance at life (for her literally, for him spiritually and emotionally).
Other times, as on the exuberantly optimistic “Daybreak,” the inspiration can stem from something as sweet and carefree as the spring in his step he felt one morning. Or the simple desire to plan a fun-filled “Escape” (which starts with meditative piano and then bursts into groove and symphonic motion”), jump headfirst “Into the Storm” (which is fast and furious like a storm, but with sunshine bursting through the clouds) or simply reflect on people and times in his life (the wistfully nostalgic “Missing You.” Michael can be profoundly spiritual, as on the church bell tinged “Church of My Heart” and ease from there into whimsical romance (“Lover’s Waltz”). Sometimes, it seems like he simply wants to help us simply chill and experience “The Quiet Within” (a song that provides an avenue to do just that if we take a deep breath and tag along).
The lyrical, folkloric “Carpathian Echoes,” provides an open door to a unique element of Michael’s personal and professional biography. It is based on some of the chord progressions used in the folk music of the Carpatho Rusyn people, whose homeland is situated at the crossroads where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland meet. It is one of the tracks on Into the Blue that taps into Michael’s fascinating lifelong connection to Eastern European folk music.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he still lives, he started playing piano at age six and received classical training for 12 years while also learning clarinet and bass. He was also in the junior groups of the The Tamburitzans, the longest running multi-cultural song and dance company in the United States. Years later, he and Beth taught the very junior group they grew up together in. His passion for their music inspired him to learn to play several stringed folk instruments indigenous to the countries of that region.