As a veteran journalist/reviewer, I’m not always inclined to insert myself into my musings about any specific project, but it’s definitely warranted in the case of Michael Gettel’s beautiful, soulful and free flowing, often electrifying and gravity defying new album The View From Here. It’s like the long awaited return of an old friend whose greatest works of along ago (his 90’s new age ensemble classics Skywatching, The Key and The Art of Nature) were companions on my own life journey and offered solace (sometimes literally, as one of his tunes on Art was titled Solace) during times of great challenge and emotional strife.
In recent years, during his long hiatus from recording, the multi-talented composer and pianist/keyboardist used his Facebook page to engage fans with lovely clips of long beloved songs from his classic heyday albums. Prior to this he and his wife, fellow pianist and recording artist Elizabeth Naccarato, seeking a more tranquil life in San Luis, CO (his home state) after years living in the Pacific Northwest and commuting to their respective longtime teaching gigs in Seattle and Tacoma. He seemed to be setting the stage for something big to emerge and for a comeback to happen. Though I appreciated the warm, lovely sense of nostalgia that these song/video postings sparked in me, I was one of those who would often reply to his song/video postings, great, but when are we going to hear some new material?”
Before sharing just how magnificently Gettel has responded with The View From Here, it feels appropriate to backtrack a bit to contemplate why he followed a prolific decade plus on Narada Records (the gold standard for new age in the 90s) with a 20 year hiatus from recording. Essentially, Narada unceremoniously let him go and then, due to changes in the industry, was liquidized, with its product and entities sold to larger companies. Gettel and Naccarato celebrated their recent marriage magnificently with the independent release of One Piano, a sort of “he said, she said” compilation of piano pieces that I likened at the time to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey as passionate musical romantic exchanges.
The album didn’t do as well as the duo had hoped, and with all the other changes going on in the industry during the 2000s, it felt like the right time for Gettel to step away from composing and the treadmill of recording. He continued to play for pleasure or performance while focusing on his new marriage, three children and teaching at the Bush School in Seattle. His job gave him incredible ongoing opportunities to coach music students, and to travel with them to the Southwest (where he could share the inspirations behind Skywatching) and overseas to England, Scotland and France – memories of which would inspire two of the most engaging tunes on The View From Here.
The soulful and contemplative “Odiles Garden,” which features lush nature sounds and bursts open in the middle like shards of sunlight dappling on surrounding greenery, pays loving homage to the magnificent gardens of his dear friend Marie-oldile Roux Le Petit in Tours, France. The exuberant, infectiously hypnotic ivory dance “Stepping Stones Under Water” (an truly elegant sonic whirlwind) was based on a memory from a hike in the UK’s Lake District.
It's almost as if Gettel’s impressions of these lovely places – and many other locales, both physical and archetypal - were simply waiting to manifest in a burst of colorful musical wellspring of inspiration. That moment happened in February 2021, when the musician had a major epiphany. “I suddenly realized that, while I was putting all of this, effort, and money into our living environment (our home in Colorado), why wasn’t I doing the same thing for my soul and my creativity?
“That’s when I knew I was going to get back on the horse,” Gettel adds. I started reaching out to loyal friends in the industry, and before I had even composed a note, I had everything lined up to record a new album. Just the thought of reinventing and revisiting all of the memorable moments in a studio, and to do it in a place and with people I dearly love, was thrilling. After 12 successful releases, I felt liberated that I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone about this new material. People were either going to love it or ignore it. But I knew as I was writing out manuscripts by hand that this new music was something pretty special, with a new maturity.”
Love it…something pretty special…any true Gettel fan, and one who knows the entire catalog – including his bestselling late 80’s debut San Juan Suite, the album with Nacarrato and the two acoustic piano stunners on the 1997 compilation Winter – will be thrilled to hear him in his purest form on acoustic piano, where he agrees he is most vulnerable and can create songs of great intimacy. I once called Skywatching an “image laden love poem to the Southwest and its Native American culture” and while The View from Here has a much more expansive array of visual and conceptual inspirations, the musical love poem idea is perfectly applicable.
No matter where you begin your journey with The View From Here, the one thing that comes clear throughout is the way Gettel often begins a tune in a space of gentle, peaceful reverence for his subject before easing into a more rhythmic movement before suddenly bursting into an ecstatic energy that takes that sense of awe and wonder to transcendent levels and then returning to a place of gentle grace.
He brings this “uniquely Gettel” sense of evolving impressionism to, among other pieces, the emotionally impactful title track (a mission statement of sorts saying “this is what it looks like to be me right now”), “Oh So Many Stars” (a clear view of The Milky Way from his courtyard), “Lone Tree” (a thoughtful meditation celebrating the subtle joys of being an introvert), “The Embrace” (a passionate in the moment interpretation of a vivid dream) and “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Scottish drinking song (an ode to Gettel’s heritage) re-imagined to remind us that in life, there will always be life changing moments of departure.
Other key tracks on The View From Here give us meaningful glimpses of Gettel’s current life and surroundings. He shares an unbridled passion for the scenic grandeur of his new home in Colorado via the lively from the get go romp “Medano Creek” (a locale in Sand Dunes National Park), creates a stunning musical equivalent to post-impressionism looking up at the sky at a at home on a sweeping, all enveloping “Van Gogh Sky” and sharing his timeless love for Naccarato via with a wide range of light and dark chords and musical colors on “A Beacon to Guide You Home.”
Beyond those, the hopeful whimsy of “Rise” is important in that he shares the spotlight with up and coming pianist Kelsey Lee (who was literally born to “San Juan Suite” and grew up loving his music via her parents), and the closer “Ariel” is a buoyant, endlessly sparkling reminder to “go outside and look up” to humbly understand our place in the universe and feel gratitude for the time we are given here.