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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Peter Calandra - Ashokan Memories

Peter Calandra - Ashokan Memories
2013, PCM

Peter Calandra is a film and television composer whose work has been featured in over 40 films.  His 1800 compositions for television, featured on ABC, NBC, Fox, A&E, ESPN, Discovery, National Geographic and Sesame Workshop make for the sort of career that many composers dream of.  Calandra has also been active on Broadway, serving as the principal keyboard player for Miss Saigon.  Other credits include The Phantom Of The Opera, Les Miserables, and Little Shop of Horrors.  Calandra takes center stage on the solo piano album Ashokan Memories, a veritable treat for the ears.

Calandra sets sail with the spritely energy of "Awosting Morning". There's an air of Vince Guaraldi here as Calandra turns wonderfully melodic phrases with an almost whimsical grace. "Ramblin' Nighttime" explores an ever moving musical architecture that is lyric but full of wonderful energy.  "Frost Valley" is more pensive, full of a quiet beauty born of its darker inflection and Calandra's intimate phrasing.  "Overlook" gets a bit bogged down in its own repetitive nature, but Calandra saves it with his sense of timing. 

"Bonticou Crag" is powered by a sometimes frenetic piano part that eventually resolves into lyric passages. The song is over almost before it’s begun however. "Peekamoose" cycles through pedestrian passages without a lot of life, while "Ashokan Memories" recycles the frenetic rolls of "Bonticou Crag".   "Mettacohonts Flowing" meanders just as the title suggests, while "Tubin' the Esopus" has a quirky, jazz like quality that's unforgettable.  Calandra turns a bit more mundane for numbers such as "Gertrude's Nose" and "Woodland Valley", using his keyboard skills to eke more out of the songs than they are willing to give.  "Minnewaska" once again shows Guaraldi-like tendencies, with complex and beautiful melody lines that soar in quiet, soft spaces. 

Calandra once again hits a lull on "Ver Noy Falls" and "Ice Caves", making up for the oversimplified nature of the latter with some beautifully gentle theatrics.   “Shaft 2a” shows a shift into a sort of contemplative jazz that’s wistful and sweet, whereas “Stoneridge” has a dark quality that’s beautiful and disturbing at the same time.    Calandra uses a rhythmic, chord-driven style here at times to create a mental picture, but evolves into rivulets and streams of notes that distract, retract and come together again.  “Karma Road” wends its way through the now-familiar Guaraldi style piano themes, often suggesting pending resolutions and then backing slyly away.  This is one of the most captivating pieces on the album, as Calandra teases listeners again and again.  Ashokan Memories winds down with the wistful and melancholy strains of “Buttermilk Falls”.  This mood occasionally resolves into something brighter, but the internal conflict never entirely fades even in the sunnier patches.

Solo piano albums can be anathema to intrigue at times, particularly with the explosion of healing CDs in the marketplace.  If you’re feeling jaded about modern piano instrumentals, then you’ll want to hear Peter Calandra’s Ashokan Memories.  The occasional Vince Guaraldi influence is here, but Calandra himself is an original.  Calandra follows his muse, never boxing himself into tired themes or rote musical loops.  Ashokan Memories is one of the finest collections of original piano music of 2013.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

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