MIKE GARSON (b.1945): Homage to Chopin & Godowsky.
Catalogue Number: 05X064
Description: An unusual composer with an unusual background, career, and working method - and results to match. These pieces, all short, are entirely approachable, appealing, and tonal, mostly very securely so with some more adventurous exceptions; they are also pianistically highly accomplished and in some cases extremely virtuosic. Garson was classically trained, then embarked on a successful jazz career, alongside many luminaries of the genre, aided by his prodigious gift for improvisation. Along the way he became "keyboard player to the stars", with a long association with David Bowie, while also working with other internationally renowned bands including Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, and No Doubt. His unorthodox compositional method is to compose by performing and working out ideas at the Yamaha Disklavier, essentially a computerized player-piano, relying on copyists to produce printed scores. A sponge for soaking up music of all kinds, Garson is all over the map in terms of influences and styles. The most musically rewarding works here are the tributes and homages to specific composers - Chopin tout court and via Godowsky, Prokofiev, Ligeti, Ravel, Ives, and the classically trained Keith Emerson (04R070). The composer has an unusual gift for capturing the essence of a particular piece and running with it in roulades of coruscating, improvisatory virtuosity; you know exactly which piece is being referenced (Chopin-Godowsky Op.10 No.1, Ligeti 1st Etude, Prokofiev 1st Concerto, Gaspard de la nuit), but Garson's works are neither pastiche nor transcription but flamboyant (if necessarily brief, given the compositional method - no exhaustively worked out fugues or sonata form here) glosses on the works that inspired them. Garson's jazz background is a frequent presence - the Prelude and Nocturnes sound like Chopin with jazz chords, for instance - while other influences come from all over the place - the musical interjections into preaching in Gospel churches, and Spirituals, in Gospel; a kind of slow minimalism in Tremolando, with harmonies that evolve while patterns remain constant, being representative of his polyglot style. An enjoyable, unconventional treat for pianophiles. Danny Holt (piano).