A seminal force in and influential and enduring treasure of new age music, pianist/composer Scott Cossu - one of the first artists on Will Ackerman’s groundbreaking Windham Hill label - was a creative force and guiding light when the genre was in its infancy. During his incredible 19 years there, he built a dynamic foundational discography of 12 albums, earned numerous accolades, performed all over the world and toured with his equally celebrated labelmates George Winston, Alex De Grassi and the late Michael Hedges.
Memories of Water and Light, the artist’s intriguingly titled latest Heart Dance release, is a cause for celebration, marking Cossu’s 40th anniversary since his Windham Hill debut Still Moments. Even more profoundly – and more to the point of the colorful tapestry of soul-lifting melodic and harmonic weavings throughout its virtuosic tracks – the collection extends his intuitive and delightfully imaginative creative partnership with guitarist Van Manakas to 33 years and incorporates the lush, haunting cello of Holly Reeves.
When you listen intimately, you’re taking to heart not only thoughtful compositions of uncommon grace and movement. You’re also experiencing the latest chapter in a unique collaborative history. The trio has been the foundation for some of Cossu’s most exquisite pieces since he began recording in the late 70’s.
These ten beautifully produced, rhythmically sensual and seductive pieces showcasing the spirited chemistry and intertwining dances between these three masters can certainly be enjoyed as pure soul-soothing sonic exercises. Yet understanding Cossu’s overall thematic inspiration provides a connective backdrop that helps the listener immerse further into the emotions they express. It’s the simple but often taken for granted concept of appreciating our family and friends. Water and light are the metaphors the pianist chooses as entry points to embracing this circle of life, i.e. we’re born of water into light, we seek water (literal or symbolic) to refresh our souls and turn our faces to the light for spiritual/emotional renewal.
Several key songs tap into these notions directly. “Luminoso” is an elegant, free flowing, classically tinged piece which begins with bright piano musings before incorporating the contrast of Reeves’ darker shadings and Manakas’ vibrant acoustic guitar whimsy. In contrast, “Lucid Watercolors” is a gentler seduction with a few tender, swaying cello and guitar bars that combine to create the perfect soundtrack to contemplative meditation. The stark, somber closing track “Last Snow” (water themed in a very different way) follows along these lines, seems designed to open the floodgates of regret and loss so they can be cleansed away towards a brighter future when the sun appears again.
In continuously contrasting darkness and light in his compositions/arrangements and titles, Cossu seems to be saying that everything in life is worth celebrating. Not just the moments of joy and elation, but also the losses we experience, which are only felt because we have loved so deeply. Cases in point, the collection lead digital single, the dreamy and romantic “Wedding Lanterns,” was penned for his daughter’ wedding. While bright and hopeful overall, there are touches of nostalgic melancholy that remind us that even the greatest days involve changes from the way things used to be.
Seemingly at the other end of the spectrum yet offering the same type of contrast in reverse is “Ascending Angels,” one of the project’s great emotional centerpieces. Easing from nostalgic melancholy into burst of life affirming piano chords and wistful ambiences, the tune was written in memory of beloved friends and musicians who have recently passed away. So, sure, there’s sorrow, but the brilliant light of their time here – matched of course, by that of their heavenly ascension – shines through.
Another favorite on Memories of Water and Light is the impressionistic, mood-swing filled ballad “Follow Your Heart” – a reminder that no matter how high or low life takes us, triumph is always the result of finding our passions and giving them our whole heart. It’s great to see Cossu and his trio doing just that and finding ways to inspire us anew after all these years.