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Radiohead hardly need any introduction. Since forming in 1985, they have established themselves as one of the most unique and admired bands in the world, selling more than 30 million albums and regularly topping listener and critical polls.
Australian pianist and teacher Josh Cohen will perhaps be a new name to some readers however, although he has garnered an impressive following of some 70,000+ followers on YouTube, drawn to his improvised solo piano arrangements of popular songs by Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Sigur Rós and David Bowie.
Now, thanks to Faber Music, 11 of Cohen’s arrangements are being published (with the approval of Radiohead themselves) in a beautifully presented collection.
Here’s Cohen explaining in his own words the journey that brought us this publication:
Let’s take a closer look…
Cohen has (as of the time of this review) shared 20 of his Radiohead covers on YouTube, from which the 11 included in the music book have been judiciously selected.
While I am not a particular follower of the band, listening to Cohen’s arrangements alongside the songs which inspired them is instructive, and reveals Cohen’s success in reworking the songs effectively for solo piano without for a moment losing their unmistakable essence.
These unique versions are both pianistic and deeply infused with the emotions of the originals; it’s no wonder that Radiohead are happy to have given their blessing to Cohen’s work.
Here’s Cohen’s YouTube playlist of all 20 of his Radiohead arrangements… I’m sure readers will soon make up their own minds:
From this playlist, transcriptions of the following 11 pieces are included in the book:
- Everything in its right place
- No surprises
- Exit Music (for a film)
- Sail to the moon
- Karma Police
- Pyramid song
- True love waits
- Paranoid Android
Cohen has, given the medium of notation, inevitably taken the opportunity to refine his arrangements. However, the accuracy and faithfulness of the transcriptions to his earlier recorded improvisations is very impressive.
Cohen notes in his Introduction to the book,
“It has been a challenging and arduous process transcribing and arranging these tracks. Converting the analogue nature of playing improvised piano arrangements into the very rigid grid of digital notation has its limitations… Given the amount of improvised elements in the arrangements, there was always going to be some information that was lost in translation due to the constraints of Western notation. For example, I couldn’t find a musical symbol to indicate a “reverse accent” – to play an individual note softer than the rest of the surrounding notes, so you’ll see these noteheads are slightly smaller to give them less emphasis.”
I would suggest that before trying any of the pieces here it’s important to listen to Cohen’s YouTube recordings (as included above) and compare them with the score.
According to the publishers, the advertised level of the arrangements is “intermediate” but I would say most are early advanced, while Paranoid Android is particularly difficult. This last piece was arranged by Oliver Weeks rather than Cohen, who in turn admits that even he finds it somewhat intimidating!
It’s also important to note Cohen’s advice to players:
“Before diving into these arrangements I’d suggest that you don’t interpret these charts literally. I know this may be challenging to some players, but the end goal should be to have some flexibility and creative freedom to use these arrangements as a template and guide, rather than diligently reading every note dot-to-dot. They weren’t arranged to be played exactly as written, nor should they be played that way when replicating them.”
Faber Music can once again be commended for producing a highly attractive and durable physical score. The covers are made from thick, soft-touch card featuring a Stanley Donwood illustration (more of whose artwork is included periodically within), and create an instantly good impression:
Both front and rear covers are joined by a striking yellow inner cover, also in card, adding to the sense that Faber have gone the extra mile to create a stunningly conceived and well-designed quality product.
As with several recent Faber publications, the 104-page book both needs undaunted physical persuasion in order to stay open on the book stand, and easily withstands it. The book is built to both cope with regular, rugged use and to last.
After the expected title, credits and contents pages, there is a two page Biography and Introduction by Josh Cohen, which is written in a chatty style and makes for an interesting read.
The eleven pieces are spaciously laid out on white paper, and benefit from crisp engraving. Song lyrics are included as a guide.
General dynamic markings and phrasing are included, as are useful pedalling indications, but disappointingly there is no fingering. Bearing in mind many playing these tunes will do so informally on their own, the technical support that could have been provided by including Cohen’s fingering suggestions would surely have been welcome.
Josh Cohen: Radiohead for solo piano is a special publication for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the music itself is not only great, but highly prized among its fans. Cohen’s arrangements successfully reimagine the original songs and it’s great to see them in print (as opposed to the more generic arrangements of popular songs often found elsewhere).
Secondly, in transcribing the improvisations it’s clear that genuine care has gone into ensuring that the finished results are playable, well laid-out, and musically finessed. The real attention to detail here demands special praise.
Finally, Faber Music have again distinguished themselves as a publisher who are able to produce a lovely product. In common with several other recent collections, this is one to cherish.
Josh Cohen and Radiohead fans will undoubtedly be thrilled with this publication, and deservedly so!
Also available • Andrew’s essential handbook:
How to Practise Music
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