Jazz CD Reviews

Chris Donnelly, solo piano – Solo – Alma

On his first solo venture, Canadian pianist Chris Donnelly proves he is insightful, inventive and an accomplished performer and composer.

Published on October 12, 2010

Chris Donnelly, solo piano – Solo – Alma

Chris Donnelly, solo piano – Solo – Alma ACD92382, 67:31 ****:

On his debut, simply titled Solo, Canadian pianist Chris Donnelly harnesses the communion that can exist between a musician and his or her chosen instrument. Donnelly is only his late twenties is already one of Canada’s premier jazz players: he was nominated for a Juno award last year, has performed with elder Canadian artists and is now a University of Toronto professor. On Solo – released in 2008 and reissued by Alma Records – Donnelly shows his ease with either jazz or classical on four interpretations of standards that range from Charlie Parker to Walt Disney and seven originals that merge his classical and jazz background.

Donnelly opens with Bill Evans’ “Very Early,” which starts as an inspired echo of Evans’ style and gradually but impeccably escalates into a swing tone, moving from introversion to extroversion: the tempo rises and without preamble Donnelly even slips in a slice of discord. Donnelly’s jazz chops are brought to the fore on Bud Powell’s “Hallucinations,” where Donnelly demonstrates his technique and virtuosic ability: his fingers roll up and down the 88 keys and he concludes with a witty outro. He gives a similar sense of humor and depth to a lengthy deconstruction of Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” that applies several variations that illustrate Donnelly’s improvisational expertise and performance proficiency. The pièce de résistance is a “Cinderella Medley” that combines “So This Is Love” with “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Donnelly begins with sublimity and subtly edges in amusing asides as the melodies come to the front. He also progresses from a recital quality into emotional territory and from straightforwardness into sophistication.

While translation of other artists’ material is the bread and butter of any emerging performer, originality is a different issue and Donnelly proves he is insightful, inventive and accomplished on his seven compositions.  “For the Drifters” is a mid-tempo treatment that shifts around a fissured melody and presents moments of conflict alongside comfort. “Serenity” is a well-named, dreamy ballad where single notes reverberate from Donnelly’s grand piano and has a touch of rural folk impressionism. “Serenity” slides directly into likeminded “Winter’s Waltz,” which has a deeper landscape attribute and alters shape to include sharply pounded keys, more of Donnelly’s delicate lightheartedness and his self-constrained finesse.

Donnelly’s most notable work is his three-part homage set in B-minor that is scattered among the 11-track program. “Song in B Minor –Satie” has a moody mannerism that mirrors Erik Satie’s subdued character and melancholic melodic forte and exemplifies Donnelly’s classical music education. The brief “Song in B Minor – Fauré” is a tribute to French composer Gabriel Fauré and cultivates a concession of expression with a harmonic poise reminiscent of Fauré’s streamlined compositional approach. “Song in B Minor – Eva” follows a comparable path and is centered by a parallel melody.

Donnelly’s harmonic and melodic lines and chords are beautifully rendered by engineer Peter Olsen and were captured in the University of Toronto’s resonant Walter Hall, a perfect location for this recital-like recording.  For those interested in future endeavors, Donnelly plans to follow up Solo with a sophomore project entitled Metamorphosis, based on M.C Escher’s graphics.

TrackList:

1. Very Early
2. For the Drifters
3. Song in B Minor – Eva
4. Hallucinations
5. Cinderella Medley: So This Is Love/A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes
6. Donna Lee (Variations)
7. Song in B Minor – Satie
8. Serenity
9. Winter’s Waltz
10. Song in B Minor – Fauré
11. Overtime (Extended Pay)

– Doug Simpson




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