Starting with the moment she fell in love with new age piano music circa 1990 via influences and heroes like David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani and Jim Chappell, Shoshana Michel took a unique and circuitous – some would say, too long - road toward her evolution as a composer and solo artist. Yet since the release of her 2015 debut solo piano album Soul Whispers, which earned an Album of the Year nomination by SoloPiano.com, she’s been an unstoppable, inspirational force in the genre.
Opening the creative floodgates and sharing her own compositions for the first time on Dancing with the Wind (2016), the Brooklyn based artist received has received well-deserved accolades for her subsequent releases. Prelude to a Dream (2017) was nominated for Enlightened Piano Radio Album of the Year and One World Music Radio’s Solo Album of the Year. Her 2019 collection Reflection, which I described as “sensitive, insightful and deeply compelling,” was nominated for Best Solo Piano Album by One World Music Radio and earned its place as one of Aural Awakenings’ Top 25 Albums of 2019. Its track “Shooting Stars,” which currently has nearly 425,000 streams on Spotify (amazing numbers for solo piano), was an Official Selection in the “Women Powered Music,” Artemis Film Festival 2019.
Considering all of that recognition and impact, it’s fascinating to have Shoshana acknowledge that her new, perfectly album Impressions – featuring a generous multi-faceted 13 tracks borne, she says, out of “reflection and inspiration” – is the first album that she truly resonates with. The true joy of impressionistic solo piano compositions played with such sensitivity and joy resides in its personal resonance with each listener, but it’s great to have insight from her personal “origin story” as well. The pianist says, “Some of the pieces were composed from raw emotions and I’ve grown both as a composer and as a person with them. Some of them reflect the music that I’ve grown up with and the music that I’m listening to and resonating with now. I’m writing what resonates with me rather than trying to write what I think others may want to hear.”
From the lilting, hypnotic and whimsical opening gem “Imagination” through the sweet, wistful romantic reflection “Long Ago and Far Away,” Shoshana’s rich expressions reveal her once again as a a master at creating and varying moods, able to draws us into the many emotions of her inner world with lovely well placed dashes of grace, beauty and joy, balanced by moments of stark loneliness and haunting sorrow.
Engaged in a most fascinating journey, she brings us back several times to her early days listening to classical music via meditational pieces like the bright, reflective, Bach inspired “Prelude in E Minor” and the much slower, eminently darker heartbreak of “Nocturne in E Flat,” inspired by Romantic and Minimalist genres. Another prominent tune tracing back to the classical compositions she played in her youth is the stark “Loneliness,” which balances mournful chords with a lighter right hand melody that seeks shards of sunlight through the oppressive sadness.
Some pieces, like the simple, tender lullaby “Quietly, Gently, Peacefully” or the soft, soothing “Yearning” (inspired by her love of minimalist composers) require only passing emotional description, others clearly tap into deeper areas of her heart. The tune she speaks most eloquently and passionately about is the exquisitely and somberly rendered “Dancing in the Shadows.” This one will stay with you long after you’ve gone onto subsequent tracks for a good reason. Creating lingering cinematic images in the mind, she says, “I was inspired to compose this after a series of events that I was excluded from that left me feeling left out and alone. When I wrote this piece, in my mind’s eye I could see myself in a room where everything was essentially black and white and dimly lit, and I was wearing a white flowing dress.
“I could see a door open,” she continues, “and inside this door was a large banquet room, in vibrant color, filled with people sitting at tables, talking to each other and enjoying themselves. I could hear the music coming out of this room and I danced to the music, alone, in my flowing white dress, in the shadows. This is probably my most favorite piece and the most meaningful to me from this album.”
“Dancing in the Shadows,” the transcendently soulful “In My Dreams” (inspired by dreams of her late mother) and the haunting, twilight-toned piece “Elegy” (composed in memory of a friend’s recently departed Galah cockatoo and other extended family members) are representative of the cathartic emotional foundations of Impressions that truly embody the personal nature of the album.
For those wanting to connect with Shoshana’s lighter, more playful side, however, there are a few uplifting “Joyful Moments” where we can tell that despite some of life’s losses and harsh lessons, she is also grateful for the sweet memories that have also been part of her life’s journey. Interestingly, she says that the aforementioned “Long Ago and Far Away” and one of these more optimistic pieces, “Summer into Fall,” were one that she had put on the shelf a few years ago, without plans to finish or record them.
Her decision to do just that is due to the way they represent a previous compositional style that is no longer reflected in her current works. Now that she’s shared her deepest truths and life Impressions on her latest release, Shoshana will no doubt be one of those great solo piano artists we can count on to honestly reflect the world she inhabits as her career develops.
Listen to Impressions here: https://open.spotify.com/album/23QcRIacJsIJ8H6P9oZyYX