Sometimes emerging musical artists like to downplay their so called “day jobs,” and their history in other industries, as if they are not relevant to the art they’re creating. In the case of pianist Kurt Reiman, however, the fact that he comes to his critically acclaimed and increasingly successful new age artistry from a 20 year career as an investment strategist for leading financial services firms is an important part of his story.
First, because it’s always good to be reminded that creativity can never be suppressed for long – and even if you rise to the top of a more so called “practical” profession, art will always emerge when the timing is right. Second, because Reiman’s journey is one we can all learn from, because it’s truly never too late to pursue one’s artistic dreams. Those dreams became a transcendent reality with the release of his 2019 album North Maple Road, which debuted at #5 on the Zone Music Reporter charts and earned him a nomination for ZMR’s Best New Artist award.
Maybe in rock and roll, there’s an expiration date and you can’t make it big after 30. But the beauty of majestic and soulful piano music like Reiman creates is that it’s timeless and not dependent on an artist being a certain age. In this genre, the composition and expressive playing are the focus, not the image. Finally, we can certainly find a metaphoric connection between being an investment strategist on behalf of others and at last investing in himself and his passion to share his stunning piano driven stories with the world. For that, we can be most grateful. He titled his latest album A Glimpse of Grace, but he enraptures us with a multitude of intricate, deeply emotional glimpses - 16 to be exact, over the course of exactly one hour.
For those new to the Reiman experience, here’s a little background. A native of Stowe, Vermont, he began playing piano at age six and, finding it an effective outlet for expressing thoughts and emotions, he started composing in his teens. A self-taught musician who never learned to read music fluently, he learned by listening and playing along with the works of everyone from Chopin and Billy Joel to Lyle Mays, George Winston and Dave Brubeck – truly showcasing passion for a multitude of genres and influences. Even as he was pursuing his degrees at SUNY Plattsburg’s School of Business and Economics and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Reiman never stopped playing or composing.
Testament to Reiman’s quick rise in the new age realm is the elevated production values and sonically diverse harmonic colorings on A Glimpse of Grace as compared to the basic (but of course stirringly exquisite) all-solo piano work on North Maple Road. It starts with a change of studio scenery, from Inception Sound in Toronto to Will Ackerman’s legendary Imaginary Road Studios in Reiman’s home state. Literally hundreds of epic new age works – including many of Ackermans’ own classic guitar projects – by genre superstars and indie upstarts have been produced there by Ackerman and his partner Tom Eaton. Reiman and A Glimpse of Grace certainly makes a meaningful addition to the pantheon.
While A Glimpse of Grace features five core tracks that are exclusively solo piano, a grand guest list of top veteran artists is on hand to add powerful emotional textures. It’s almost like a new age Hall of Fame session, with each artist stepping in at just the right moment in the narrative – Charlie Bisharat (violin), Eugene Friesen (cello), Jill Haley (English Horn), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Premik Russell Tubbs (saxophone) and Noah Wilding (vocals). Eaton’s basslines also play a subtle but meaningful role in the recording.
The contributions of all these players isn’t meant to convey a literal notion of duets, but in gentle and fascinating ways, each creates a remarkable, sometimes even hypnotic synergy with Reiman’s gorgeous, infectiously melodic and often emotionally emphatic piano magic. In my view, the most compelling of these are the charming and lyrical, sweetly uplifting “Quiet Confidence” (with Jill Haley), the sweetly melancholic “Goodbye For Now” (with Friesen and the lofty choir effects of Wilding), the elegant, contemplative “Pathways” (with Bisharat), the dark, tense and ominous “Elegy For Justice” (with Friesen) and the at first soft spoken and wistful, then more dramatic title track (with Bisharat and Oster) and the bright, ever so whimsical “With Every Step” (with Tubbs).
For all the ample and often surreal star firepower, at heart it’s Reiman’s stirring playing style and the range of emotions he shares that make A Glimpse of Grace another contender for Best New Age album of the year (are you listening, ZMR?). To that effect, ultimately, it’s the handful of solo piano tunes that will capture your heart again and again. The guests are brilliant at helping him explore his reflective, melancholy side, but the deeper joys and emotional catharsis on this album come from Reiman’s exuberant displays of optimism on “Joyous” and “This Dance.”