Reflecting on pianist/composer Brenda Warren’s latest collection, the exquisitely produced, intimately poignant, and spiritually transcendent Beautiful Journey, its producer, legendary Windham Hill Founder wrote, “I was listening to an utterly unique artistic voice and a pianist with stunning compositional talent and technique to match. Her work is deeply heartfelt and stunningly emotional…a glimpse into her artistic soul.” Listening in detail to this sweeping blend of reflective solo piano pieces and other tracks gently and harmonically colored by some of Ackerman’s legendary first call musicians (including cellist Eugene Friesen, violinist Charlie Bisharat, bassists Michael Manring, Tony Levin and Tom Eaton, and sax and wind synth master Premik Russel Tubbs, I indeed felt a personal revelation unfolding.
The journey dawns with the brightly optimistic, free-flowing tones of “Imagine Spring” before exposing a moodier, more contemplative “Open Heart,” implying emotional tension between darkness and light. Warren’s titles, like the feel of her songs, create what she terms in one of the collection’s starkest most exquisite pieces, a “Delicate Dance,” shifting from haunting, wistfully nostalgic gems like “Without You” and “Drifting” to more uplifting love filled breakthroughs like the graceful “Awakening,” the promise of a lighter “Blue Sky Day” and a hopeful sunny “New Morning.’ The soulful ballad that perhaps best captures the uncertain fragility amidst the exuberant beauty of life is “Beneath Cherry Blossoms,” whose title is the perfect metaphor for bringing greater things out of times of loss and intense challenge.
I listened to Beautiful Journey first without knowing the inspiration behind the album, but as Warren explained it, every piece in the emotional mosaic made perfect sense. She was inspired by her mother’s optimistic view of the goodness and beauty in life that she needed to take to heart after she passed away in 2012. At the time, Warren herself was recovering from a concussion, uncertain if she would make it all the way back and struggling both physically and emotionally. Nearly 15 years after releasing her previous album As Years Go By, she turned to the healing power of music, which helped her lingering head injury issues and slowly helped her heart tap back into the joy her mother’s life was all about.
With influences ranging from Erik Satie to Keith Jarrett and Laura Nyro, Warren’s not your typical new age pianist and composer. Will Ackerman knows that, I just happily found out, and now you can know it, too. The title Beautiful Journey makes any extra adjectives sharing the majesty of this work just a tad superfluous.