“This engaging album of improvised solo piano music highlights one of the many musical talents of Fred Cole, whose performance and composition interests range across multiple genres.”
These include new classical, screen music, theatre music, progressive rock, funk, modern jazz and electronic dance music, the last of which was the subject of Cole’s PhD thesis.
On his e-commerce website, Cole describes his ten-track release as “relaxing”, “melodic” and “meditative”. This positions it as “ambient music”, although there is a lot more musical invention in the identifiably ambient tracks than one usually associates with this genre. The album takes a sharp stylistic turn, however, for its last three tracks that are rooted in jazz and blues improvisation, and which could not, by any stretch, be characterised by Cole’s three descriptors.
Cole is also a piano technician and states on his website that the album “is recorded on an 1894 Steinway Model A, lovingly restored by the artist”. Certainly one of the highlights of the release is the remarkable sound quality of the piano.
The opening track, Mausoleum, begins with a sparse and very slow improvisation over various chords in the key of A minor. Several melodic motifs are introduced and developed. A second section in D minor is more rhythmically regular, using repeated or broken chords to accompany melodic ideas either below or above the chords or other repeated elements.
The Fairy Grotto is an appealing reflective melody accompanied by a slow-moving set of left hand chords.
More adventurous harmonies are explored at the beginning of Special, but the musical language becomes more diatonic and more texturally varied as the track develops. Virtuosic decorative elements are introduced before a more subdued conclusion.
The Open Door is another slow reflective piece with plaintive melodies and understated accompanying chordal textures.
The exploration of diatonic, modal and chromatic elements is a feature of Transcendent. These chordal ideas underpin melodic designs that develop as the track proceeds.
Consonant minimal piano textures, formed from overlapping repeated broken chordal and melodic patterns, are used throughout Through the Glass Darkly. Towards the middle of the track, a jarring dissonant note is introduced into the patterning for a short period. This could be the result of the improviser playing an unintended note and then working the unintended note into the ensuing texture to make it appear intentional: a typical improvisation strategy.
An impressionistic watery texture with no conventional melodic elements forms the basis of the first section of Watershed. This repetitive flowing idea continues under a folk-like tune which gives way to a concluding chordal riff. The track is a vehicle for Cole’s distinctive virtuosic piano improvisation style.
A radical stylistic shift in the album begins with Riding Shotgun, a jazz/blues swung rhythm improvisation, beginning over the alternating chords of D and E flat. A central section shifts to an improvisation over a chromatically descending bass-line before a return to the initial chord changes.
Good Time Blue is a more traditional blues improvisation, grounded on left-hand chordal riffs and a 12-bar blues structure. As the performance progresses, chromatic chord substitutions are introduced and a busier approach to the improvisations evolves.
Hijacked reflects Cole’s jazz-rock fusion background in its opening complex chromatic explorations, but also features sections of repeated blues-rock grooves with appropriately flamboyant right-hand improvisations.
The variety of styles and the combination of free and structured approaches should make this release of particular interest to all aficionados of improvised music.