The title of Beyond Measures & Time, Steve Rivera’s remarkably inviting, intimate and soul-exposing new solo piano album, is a bit of a double-entendre. From a strictly technical musical standpoint, the multi-talented composer/performer is referring to the measures on sheet music where melodies are formed and tempos are set. By extension, “time” refers to keeping a set signature throughout to set the rhythmic pace.
Then there’s the other type of “measure,” meaning standard, and the more conventional understanding of “time,” which sometimes limits divinely inspired songs that demand to transcend conventional trappings and reach more of a state of timelessness. Captivating instantly from the meditative first chords and gentle first wasps of a lighthearted melody on the opening track, “Suspended Dream,” Beyond Measures & Time – recorded, as his last album Dividing the Darkness was, at Imaginary Road studio and produced by Windham Hill legend Will Ackerman - works on a multitude of levels.
While fans of that excellent work will recognize the classically trained Rivera’s often lighthearted but also deeply contemplative style, Beyond Measures & Time has one remarkable difference in that he’s playing unadorned. Last time, he enhanced his compositions with star turns by the likes of Charlie Bisharat, Eugene Friesen , Tony Levin, Jill Haley Tom Eaton (who mixed and mastered both albums) and even Ackerman himself.
Now, all the emotion comes from his nimble, graceful hands, whether he’s engaging in a whimsical yet heartfelt dance “Falling Closer” to someone; softly mining “In My Own Memories” for that single “Suspended Dream” and colorful shards of those too-soon scattered “Fragmented Dreams”; or slowly, sensually and deliberately “Unlocking the Moments.” There’s even a nod to the science behind the creation of music, captured in the swing and sway of the “Waves and Particles” that take the magic from the piano to our excited ears.
Rivera explains his intriguing cover concept this way: “Often times, artists in our genre get classified a certain way and are locked into a particular concept. That type of classification is definitely not me musically or personally. I wanted to create something outside of the box or the norm." To that end, he created the intriguing high-tech design of a watch (the time set to both of his daughters birthdays), an hourglass and prosthetic hands (one on a piano, one holding a pencil, resting on sheet music). He came up with the concept and ordered all the props. He laid it all on the inside of a piano and had the photographer come in and take a few different angles. Matt Streiby of New Leaf Design helped him solidify it.
It’s clear from the melodic and rhythmic variety of the collection’s 11 tracks that Rivera’s intention was to write in an accessible, infectious way while allowing himself a bit of freewheeling adventure so that we’re not grounded in a single musical headspace for too long. The moment we feel we’re falling deep into a meditative state, Rivera reminds us that there’s life to be lived and more journeys to embark on (that we can contemplated later, when we need to tap back into that joie de vivre).
He achieves this by varying those tempos, yes, even transcending “time,” as he take us from the thoughtful moods of “Suspended Dream” to the lilting and joyous chase of “Passing Shadows; and from the hypnotic chordal depths of “Dark Tides” and cautious exploration of those “Fragmented Dreams” to that lovely, lyrical high register melody of the title track, which speaks of unfiltered light and sweet optimism. Sometimes, he splashes those journeys onto the landscape of a single tune, as on the perfectly titled “Spectrum of Thought,” which opens with a stark sense of loneliness before life’s exuberant joys and meaningful passions animate us and help transport our souls Beyond Measures & Time.