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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove


EUAN STEVENSON

Portraits, Preludes and Landscapes

Euan Stevenson ESCD 1

 

 



 
 
1. Chorale for Caravaggio
2. Prelude to Passion
3. Passion
4. Loch Lomond
5. Prelude to Spheres
6. Spheres
7. Aria (for ciné film)
8. Fantasia
9. Prelude to Life out of Balance
10. Life out of Balance
Casa de César Manrique
11. Manrique 1 - Upstairs
12. Manrique 2 - Downstairs
13. Manrique 3 - The Garden
14. Winter Trees
15. Spiritual
16. Cathedral by Night
17. Ascension
18. Orecchio di Dionisio
19. Lyudmila
 
Euan Stevenson - Piano
 

When I heard a track from this CD played on the BBC's Jazz Line-Up programme, I was interested enough to ask Euan Stevenson for a review copy. As the album was played on Jazz Line-Up, it must be jazz - right? Not necessarily.

Things used to be so simple: we knew what jazz was. It usually had a distinctive, regular (but often syncopated) rhythm and involved improvisation. Nowadays, "jazz" seems to be a label for anything that doesn't fit into any other comfortable category. It can be a mixture of influences from world musics and even (as in this CD) approach so closely to "classical" music that it is virtually indistinguishable from that genre.

Scottish-born pianist Euan Stevenson studied classical piano before he took up jazz, as well as composing large-scale works for various ensembles. He has worked with such jazzmen as Jim Mullen, Colin Steele and Tom Gordon, as well as playing in a bebop sextet and indulging in free improvisation. He also leads a trio which recently played Oscar Peterson arrangements on Radio Scotland in a tribute to the late-lamented piano master.

All of this might prepare you for this solo piano album to be an eclectic mix of styles, but it is closer to classical music than jazz. Hardly any of the tracks have the compulsive rhythm which is common in jazz. Instead, the atmosphere partly resembles Keith Jarrett's solo piano recitals although the "classical" element seems paramount.

Euan's sleeve-note says that he intended the album to consist of abstract pieces which could be edited together to create abstract compositions. Instead he found that the music turned out to be less fragmented than he had expected, although "perhaps more reflective of my interests in the traditions of Western classical music than jazz or free improvisation". The result was "spontaneous compositions for solo piano". So the feel of the music is like Keith Jarrett's solo piano recitals without the jazzier elements that they sometimes embraced.

For example, the opening Chorale for Caravaggio might have been written by Ravel, Debussy or even Satie, and this is true of many tracks. The three items called Preludes are brief prefaces to longer pieces, so that Prelude to Passion is a pensive prologue to Passion, a more puckish piece which has a slight oriental atmosphere. This is followed surprisingly by Loch Lomond, which is more accessible because it is a tune that we all know. The unusual chording gives it a jazz tinge but there is no jazzy rhythm. The result might have come from the pen of Percy Grainger, saucily refashioning a familiar melody.

Yet this is untypical of most tracks, which wander wherever the performer wishes. Euan's desire for abstraction conflicts with the programmatic titles he gives to some pieces. For instance, Cathedral by Night "attempts to capture the awe-inspiring beauty of Seville Cathedral illuminated at night". And, unless you read the sleeve-notes, you would be unlikely to guess that Lyudmila is "a tender lullaby for a beautiful (but tragic) Ukrainian Cabin stewardess".

Spheres certainly has some of the playfulness of Thelonious Sphere Monk, and Spiritual has slight hints of gospel music. Spiritual is the track that attracted me to Euan Stevenson's playing when I heard it on the radio, and it is beautifully lyrical, although you wouldn't immediately think of classifying it as "jazz". The style is nearest to the impressionist works of such composers as Debussy. However, this is not music to categorise but simply to enjoy. And that's what I'm doing right now. Enjoyment is heightened by the remarkably clear and resonant sound that the recording obtains from the piano.

Tony Augarde

 

 

 



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