While mentions of specific tracks are generally best done later in a review, one special thing has to be mentioned about a track right in the middle of the 12 pieces of Dan Chadburn’s latest master solo piano collection Always. He’s perhaps the only instrumentalist in the genre who can take a song with an anxious title like “Uncertainty” and turn it into a thing of elegant and hopeful beauty even in uncertain times like these.
Taking the big picture view, while there is usually a meaningful story behind the music of most new age solo piano albums, sometimes the simplest, most straightforward narratives are the most emotionally impactful ones. In my write-up of veteran award winning pianist Dan Chadburn’s wonderful 2019 collection Love Themes for Solo Piano, there were plenty of unique concepts and conceits to talk about. Like the fact that nearly half the songs were extemporaneously composed and recorded as single takes directly onto the album. Also crucial to understanding the aesthetic of that project, four of the tunes were previously created in live concert settings, later transcribed onto sheet music and then performed again with “tape” rolling in the studio. Only a few of the tracks were composed in a traditional manner.
With Always, a set that gloriously wraps his first quarter century of recording (a run that began in 1998 with Solo Piano), the classically trained artist puts these 12 pieces together in such a way as to convey an essential and deeply encouraging universal message. Namely, it’s a celebration of, in his words, “the unfailing resilience of the human spirit, the steadfast courage of the human heart and the eternal existence and mystery of the human soul, and the remarkable, spiritual synchronicity of them all.”
In a world where interpersonal and sociopolitical conflicts and violence seems to engulf our daily newscasts, it’s wonderful and necessary for an artist like Dan to offer an insightful reminder that there are also beautiful, transcendent aspects to our existence. The music he offers on Always provides the perfect reflective and soulful yet at the same time buoyant and optimistic soundtrack to helping us get in touch with these higher realities within our own consciousness and in the universe as a whole.
Chadburn’s titles are always in synch with the energy and flow of his tunes, from the hopeful melodic sparkle of the opening title track and a gentle an sensually hypnotic exploration of “Uncharted Waters” through a passionate, free-flowing (and nearly danceable!) celebration of that “Synchronicity” between existence and our individual souls and the somber acknowledgement that even the “Final Curtain” of our physical existence can in itself be a beautiful experience.
The pianist’s inclusion of a sweet, nostalgic version of a centuries old traditional folk song like “Shenandoah” seems to be a reminder of the essence of the pioneering, resilient American spirit and a time when people worked together for the common good. Other tunes whose vibe matches the title are the passionate, rhythmically eclectic ballad “Turning Point,” a softly lit look at “Yesteryear,” the charming and lyrical “Minuet,” the poignant “Missing You” and the solemn and reverent “Sacred Breath.”
Wherever he draw his inspiration from, however he chooses to express himself conceptually, Dan Chadburn is one of new age music’s most reliably straightforward and heartfelt solo pianists.