For new age music enthusiasts like myself whose early passion for the genre was steeped in the beautiful inspiring fusion of acoustic and ensemble music of the groundbreaking 80’s-90’s Narada label, the return of pianist/synthesist Spencer Brewer after a nearly 15-year recording hiatus with his highly anticipated, soulfully melodic and piano driven album Behind the Veil feels like a warm and intimate, yet dynamic and sonically adventurous visit from a dear friend.
As things go in the topsy turvy economy of the music business sometimes, Brewer – not long after releasing his 2008 collection Cinematic - shifted gears during the Great Recession era, following incredibly prolific years running five music related companies (recording studio, music store, piano store, production company and piano restoration business) with a successful stint running a division of a friend’s wine company. During that time, he continued to be a promoter of festivals and concerts, and played some small concerts of his own, but it was a radical change from his heyday of producing more than 250 albums over 15 years.
Throughout that time, though, Brewer never lost his creative drive, and continued composing. When a fresh opportunity to record again came about, he could have easily just shared the tunes in this growing catalog. Instead, wanting to present a fresh slate representative of who he is as a person and artist in the 2020s, the 12-tracks comprising Behind the Veil are mostly songs composed during his downtime during the primary COVID era. These songs took him to a place that was quiet and reflective to compose from.
The multi-talented artist/composer’s debut on former Narada labelmate Michael Whalen’s Artist Expansion label also includes three gems from earlier in his career, compositionally resurrected and re-imagined as lovely, free-flowing solo piano pieces. “Instead of writing music and having it fully orchestrated as I have for so many albums, where in some cases you rarely could hear the original composition, I wanted this record to be about the compositions themselves more than the arrangements and orchestrations,” he says.
As wonderful as the array of completely new tunes is as Brewer sweeps us along from the charming and lyrical, ultra-romantic, classically tinged “Parasols in Paris” (featuring the lush accompaniment of Quartet San Francisco, led by violinist and string arranger Jeremy Cohen) through the darkly haunting, deeply reflective closer “Walls That Move” (penned at Skywalker Sound), his revisits of these classic tunes feel like the true heart of the album, an opportunity to truly experience well-known genre songs from a new perspective where the artist takes us “behind the veil” to share the songs in their purest form. They include the reflective and meditational yet whimsical and uplifting “Portraits,” penned in honor of his father’s surprise 60th birthday party; the elegant, passionately optimistic “Eden:’ and “Where We Used To Play,” a lighthearted, sweetly nostalgic musical expression of carefree children having fun with one another on a playground.
Brewer calls “Where We Used to Play” one of three “dream songs” on Behind the Veil; instead of presenting these as a bundled suite of songs, they serve to create unique emotions at just the right, heartfelt moments along the journey. While “Where We Used To Play” is something of a graceful denouement before the closing tune, his other two dream songs are placed consecutively in the center of the tracking, offering a unique balance of intimate romantic love and celebrating a special life. The pianist’s gorgeous and intricate interweaving with (another former Narada colleague) Nancy Rumbel’s stirring English Horn truly helps convey the concept of two souls joining together for a transcendent connection that knows no bounds or end.
Behind the Veil generally showcases Brewer’s keen, impactful artistry as a balladeer – wonderfully manifested on tender, touching pieces like “Myths and Legends,” the moody sweetly caressing yet at times nearly danceable title track and the charming, laid back “And So It Goes.” Yet as a composer, he also has the ability to get the spirit soaring and toes tapping (often at the same time!), a talent that shimmers brightly on the wild, galloping energy and freewheeling dramatic flourishes of “Legend of Rene Anguiano” – a powerfully orchestrated tune Brewer calls his most recent dream song (and first in 17 years!) “The dream itself was like a big film with lots of crashing waves, wind and turbulent waters,” he says. “I kept hearing the main theme that you hear in the song throughout the dream while it went through all kinds of transitions in the dream itself. Rene was a dear friend of mine in Austin years ago and he had died during this time of this song coming to me. I decided to honor him with the title of the song since his life was such a dynamic one.
On a project that features many key collaborations, one off the most intriguing is Brewer’s jazzy duet on the Gershwin classic “Summertime” with saxophonist Paul McCandless, who takes the familiar melody to meteoric heights over Brewer’s hypnotic, dynamics-filled harmony ivory harmony line. The pianist says, “Being a duet with Paul over 12 years and recording many projects together,
‘Summertime’ is one that we used to play live in concerts. This is a unique arrangement, and I felt like it didn’t go too far off the path of what the rest of the album was. Yet it added a small window in the jazz direction that felt good. The unique arrangement of the piece was created to seta strong yet off color base for Paul to soar above. As always, he’s a master of what he does."
Says Brewer, a master of everything he’s done since he first captured our ears, hearts and souls in the mid 80’s! And now that he’s returned, there’s more good news: he has already recorded his next album, which will feature some of the boogie, blues, funky music he’s been playing since his teen years and that he’s never been able to do. “Some of the songs are truly pushing the southern honky-tonk piano playing styles I learned while growing up in Texas. I’m really looking forward to those songs coming out sometime down the road.”