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  • Jonathan Widran

PAM ASBERRY, 24 Impromptus

While continuing to embody and explore the melodic grace, deep intuitiveness and transcendent spiritual insight that has driven Pam Asberry’s incredible career since her 2017 debut Seashells in My Pocket, the multiple award-winning pianist/composer’s latest album 24 Impromptus – her tenth release overall - is unlike any other she has recorded.

 

As per the title, it features two dozen lovely and inviting melodic solo piano expressions, yet they are also the fulfillment of a unique self-challenge to follow in the classical tradition of composing a set of pieces in all 24 major and minor keys. Because they are relatively brief, free-form and largely improvisational, she calls them “Impromptus,” numbering each one, mentioning which major or minor key it is in and creating affirmational subtitles, starting with a piece that by virtue of its overall sense of optimism and ability to quickly resolve any meandering tension in the middle, sets the tone and creative vision for the entire set, “Impromptu No. 1 in C Major, Journey.”

 

It builds upon my training as a classical pianist, but melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic choices give the music a distinctly contemporary flair,” Pam says. “It reflects my sincere desire to continue to challenge myself artistically and compositionally and to create music that is both relatable and meaningful to listeners.”

 

Even without a deeper understanding of classical music, those listeners can certainly enjoy this project as a dynamic, multi-faceted 54-minute adventure full of every emotion from rapturous joy to poignant sorrow. Pam takes us from that graceful aforementioned opening piece and its darker, haunting minor key follow-up “Impromptu No. 2 in A Minor, Brave” through the closing duo of the bright, soulful and optimistic “Impromptu No. 23 in F Major, Freedom” and moody, hypnotic meditation “Impromptu No. 24 in D Minor, “Magnify.”

 

The artist, however, is happy to explain in layman’s terms the finer points of musical composition that illuminate what she set out to accomplish. Western music, she says, is mostly created using major and minor scales, with each major and minor key having an associated key signature, made of symbols called sharps and flats, that indicates the notes used in the scale. She chose to go around the “circle of fifths,” a diagram that shows the relationships between the various keys, alternating between each major key and its relative minor. Speaking generally, she adds that music written in a major key might be described as “happy,” whereas music composed in a minor key has an overall “sad” feeling. “Rotating between the two gave the album a nice overall flow,” she adds.  



Because she felt that titles like “Impromptu No. 16 in D-flat Major” – a reflective 75 second piece in the middle of the album – are somewhat cold and off putting to those not steeped in classical music, Pam assigned the single word affirmations (in that case, “Wisdom”) for two reasons. First, to offer a glimpse into the thoughts, feelings and emotions the music brought to her mind during the process of creation, and second, as inspirational, thought-provoking concepts intended to mean different things to listeners based on the unique life experiences they bring to the moment they listen.  

 

Intrinsic to the magic of being swept up in Pam’s track to track flow is trying to figure out her thematic intention by connecting affirmations to their pieces. While “Impromptu No. 3 in G Major Bliss” is pretty easy, coming across as a delightful piano dance, others like “Impromptu No. 2 in A Minor, Brave” are a little trickier. When she previewed it for a group of friends, someone commented that they found it curious to pair a minor piece with a positive concept like “Brave.”


“I explained that when we are pushing through fear, we may not feel particularly brave in the moment; also the piece ends on a major chord, meant to convey triumph over adversity. Another key track, the alternately wistful and whimsical “Impromptu No. 4 in E Minor, Fierce” is composed in a complex meter, all the better to convey how difficult it can be to battle some of the challenges life throws our way. “Impromptu No. 24 in D Minor, Magnify,” the aforementioned closer, was created to express gratitude – the “art” of finding that singular moment of joy, even the tiniest one, and focusing on it and watching it expand.

 

Other concepts Pam hopes her listeners will meditate as they immerse include “Bliss” (No. 3 in G Major), “Yielding” (No. 6 in B Minor), “Clarity” (No. 7 in A Major), “Vision” (No. 8 in F-sharp Minor), “Mercy” (No. 10 in C-Sharp Minor), “Resilience” (No. 11 in B Major) and “Grace” (No. 17 in A-flat Major). The charming romantic ballad “Impromptu No. 15 in D-flat Major, Wonder” harkens back to the title of Pam’s third album, The Presence of Wonder, released in 2019.

 

“I am pleased that I was able to meet the compositional challenge I set for myself while also attaching them to meaningful affirmations that I hope will resonate with listeners,” says Pam. “I also enjoyed working with Linda Maroney on the cover artwork, and I feel that it is a beautiful welcome to the music inside.” 



 

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