Pieces of Piano
Narrow People Music (2005)
Generally, there are three types of piano players in the new age genre: one, the romanticists who work within a warm flowing motif, crafting memorable melodies, two, the neo-classicists who more or less follow the path of their named predecessors, whether they be Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy or others, and three, the impressionists/minimalists who weave subtle tone poems and paint sparse musical portraits, evoking introspection and reflection.
There is, however, a less well-known fourth category. These are the piano players who defy classification and smash genres together as if they were musical atom colliders (those machines which supposedly prove the existence of quarks). These are the artists such as Bradley Sowash, Timothy Davey, and Mary Martin Stockdale - brave explorers who switch time signatures and motifs in midstream, yet do so deftly enough so as not to leave the listener gasping for virtual air.
Add to that latter list the name of one David Alstead, who hails from my Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His recording Pieces of Piano is an energetic explosion of styles on which one is never quite sure where the musical road is leading but you realize you’re in confident and self-assured hands all the same. Crisscrossing from neo-classical to straight-up new age to jazz/blues riffs, Alstead handles the transitions so seamlessly that if you play this in the background you might be unawares of the magic at work on the compositions, as the artist deftly switches mood, tempo, and motif consistently throughout the thirteen tracks. No mere “silence filler” recording this, although it is one hundred percent “user friendly” provided the user is no fan of mind-numbing valium e.g. Lloyd Weber show tunes.
Opening with the wistful “Nymph” which flits and waltzes playfully, Alstead flirts with reflection on “Sometimes I Feel” before setting forth with a dramatic run on the ivories in mid-song. “Flip Side” manages to give a nod to free jazz and experimentalism while still remaining cheerily listenable, veering mid-song into introspective territory. “Through the Falls” displays Alstead’s commanding presence in the neo-classical theater of performance, with amazing dexterity exhibited between left and right hand (overall, Alstead’s talent and prowess, when analyzed and dissected, is more than considerable, if not even dazzling). His hands seem to be flying every which way all at once. He can just as easily slide into a bluesy vein such as on the closing track “You Can Go Home Again” which merges a saucy vibe with a more dramatic aspect. The straight ahead (when compared to many of the other pieces on the CD) “Jazz in a Box” struts its stuff, but even here Alstead allows the path to deviate into unfamiliar territory now and then, but always returning to the track’s jazzy/goodtime roots.
The key to enjoying Pieces of Piano is the casting aside of preconceptions of what a new age or smooth jazz/contemporary instrumental piano release should sound like. The more constrained your vision of the mold is, the less likely you are to tune into Alstead’s “frequency.” While not adventurous to the point of alienating mainstream music lovers, Pieces of Piano is still complex enough to raise the eyebrows of fans of Winston, Spielberg or Lanz. That’s no knock on any of those artists, certainly. It’s merely an expression of how unpredictable a journey Alstead takes the listener on with this album. I recommend the CD to those who don’t require a detailed map but more just a general idea of where they are going - to them, the trip and its unfolding mysteries are what makes it fun.
Producer and Host
Wind and Wire
Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN