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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Peter Calandra - Inner Circle

Inner Circle

Peter Calandra - Inner Circle
2014, PCM Music

Peter Calandra is a composer and pianist whose work has been featured in over 40 films and countless televisions placements. Also active on Broadway, Calandra wears many musical hats both as a performer and composer. Last year, Calandra reaches Ashokan Memories, a brilliant solo piano cycle that was among the best solo piano albums of 2013. This spring Calandra follows up with Inner Circle, a 13 song cycle that runs the gamut from the renaissance to a modern day dance club.

Inner Circle opens with "Clyde and the Pearl", featuring a plucky piano/synth lead and a quietly funky arrangement. There's a low-key aesthetic here, but Calandra balances it off with tremendous energy and charisma behind the keys. "Dine's Waltz" creates interesting tension through the use of well placed major-minor key changes. The result is a plaintive bit pretty number that sounds like it should be part of a larger musical score. "The Wayfarer" dances into the pop realm, suggesting a lead that never entirely materializes. This sounds somehow incomplete without a vocal, but Calandra has an ear pleaser on his hands.  "Better Angels" is a quiet charmer with a very pretty melody that will come back to you in the days after listening. It's a gentle ear worm you won't want to push away.

A delightfully darker turn occurs on "Inner Circle", with Calandra using strings to bring more depth to the energetic and undisciplined piano "voice". This is a family play where notes become words, ideas and inflections through masterful skill.  Calandra sets an incessant tone in "Faith", setting apart that dogged determination with dancing lead lines from instruments such as piano, violin and flute, perhaps suggesting influxes of inspiration or spirit.  "So Much to Say" is a pensive meditation on piano that is among the loveliest compositions on the album. The resolutions here are beautiful, and Calandra writes with a distinct pop ballad sensibility.

"A Quiet Spark" finds Calandra meandering his way through a musical meadow, accenting gentle curves on the piano like the wind sparks waves in grain. The beauty here is stunning, yet the effect is subtle and soothing. "Nightwatch" on the other hand is dreamy and diffuse; stumbling along like a wayward brook through much of its length. The final rush of the piano suggests a change in approach; an impending destination. This leads into epic slow build of "The Dreamer", much of which is filled by a minimalist musical dark matter. The leads that flash in and out of the darkness are stark and beautifully crafted, carving the metaphorical night like meteorites.

"Whispers in the Dark" is a solo piano piece that plays like a ballad. Full of melancholy undertones, there is a stoic beauty here that is proud and will not be ignored.  "Reflections in the Sky" carries the varied pacing of a monologue from a musical, perhaps something by Jason Robert Brown or William Finn. Calandra says goodnight with the soaring grace of "Chorale".  Special guest Joy Askew provided multiple dubbed vocal tracks to suggest the dark tones of a madrigal resonating off the stone walls and columns of an ancient cathedral.   This is a moment of true beauty.

Peter Calandra shows incredible depth and range in composition on Inner Circle. Calandra worked with a very talented group of musicians to bring his song to life here, and the effort and talent that went into the recording are very obvious. You may find yourself longing for the fuller sound of an orchestra on some of these songs, but the versions offered here offer a distinct vision of Calandra's muse.   In Inner Circle, Calandra has created a vibrant collection of original instrumental works that should win him many awards.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

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