One of the great joys of a life and career spent listening to music is discovering new artists – and it often happens that those grand talents we’re hearing for the first time are actually popular veterans who somehow escaped our radar no matter our best efforts to stay in tune. So once I started embracing, in lush musical snapshots and then as a majestic whole, Dan Chadburn’s intimate and heartfelt, beyond gorgeous new collection Love Themes for Solo Piano, I did a pretty intense “streaming dive.”
I discovered not only that some of his recent solo piano works had charted well on the charts of new age tastemakers like ZMR and One World Music Radio, but that his discography actually extends back over 20 years. Got lots more catching up to do, but one of the compelling themes running through many of his other works – from “Amazing Grace” (1999) on Reflections to the entirety of his 2017 album Held in the Light - is a musical connection to the sacred.
There is often a thin veil between divine love and worship and the expression of this in how we love others, but Chadburn gives us clues as to his slightly more earthbound – though no less transcendent – intentions with Love Themes. He dedicates the 13-track collection as a whole to his husband and musical partner Tom Nichols, and the gently soulful, elegiac closer “Shalom” to his mother Margaret, who passed away during production.
One of the more interesting creative shifts in the pianist’s life and career is his transition from his classical training to performing his own compositions and developing a keen skill for improvisation (not typical of classical OR new age artists). This has its roots in a moment at a recital when he forgot most of the entire final gigue movement of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor. Rather than give into the fear that might be natural, he improvised the passage in his own Bach-influenced style – and later realized that was the springboard that helped unlock his true creative voice.
Though far from the way the word improvisation is used in the jazz world, one of the most unique aspects of this collection of Love Themes - from the free-flowing romance “Starlit Waltz” and the soft grace of “Gentle Touch” through the bright high register optimism of “Newborn Joy” and beyond – is the fact that six of the 13 songs were extemporaneously composed and recorded (at Joe Bongiorno’s Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ) as single takes directly onto the album.
In addition to “Starlit Waltz” and “Shalom,” these include the seductive, contemplative pieces “Cherished” and ”Stillness,” in addition to the moody, slightly dark-tinged “Grounded” and “Stars Above Sedona,” which one can imagine being written while looking out at that town’s endless red rock vistas as the last light of day gave birth to a beautiful new evening.
The improvisational spirit of Love Themes doesn’t end there, as Chadburn includes four tracks (“Gentle Touch,” “Newborn Joy,” “Reminisce” and “Grateful”) that were previously created in live concert settings, later transcribed onto sheet music and then performed again with “tape” rolling in the studio. The three remaining pieces (“Timeless,” “Longing” and “Unconditional”) tapping into different aspects of love that could be human or divine) are traditionally composed pieces.
It's perhaps not necessary that the listener understands Chadburn's unique, multi-faceted approach to composing and recording to appreciate the melodic gifts of love and gratitude that he imparts here. It's simply testament to an artistry that is so boundless that it cannot be captures in a single way at a specific time.