Sam Wedgwood Next Level

Sam Wedgwood’s ‘Next Level’

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Sam is the latest member of the Wedgwood clan to be making a big name for himself as a composer of well-crafted and catchy piano pieces suitable for intermediate students.

Following the popularity of the two Sam Wedgwood’s Project books from EVC Music, the publisher’s latest release is his new collection of solo and duet pieces, Next Level.

Here’s the Pianodao review…

Meet Sam Wedgwood

Son of best-selling educational piano composer Pam Wedgwood and younger brother of jazz musician Olly, Sam Wedgwood has carved out his own unique and highly successful career, firstly as a member of the Jamie Cullum band, and more recently as a songwriter and composer whose music has featured in many of the BBC’s most popular and successful shows.

Alongside this he has also created a growing catalogue of his own music, from songs to digital music libraries and, of course, accessible piano music in a popular style, predominantly educational.

With exam boards now picking up pieces from his brilliant Sam Wedgwood Project books one and two, his name is quickly becoming more widely familiar.

Taking it to the ….

Next Level, Wedgwood’s new collection, again comes from forward-thinking publisher EVC Music, who tell us,

Next Level is an exciting new collection for piano that features ten jazz-inspired solos and duets for Grade 3-5 level.
The composer’s diverse influences for this compilation range from the suspense of detective stories to the synth-pop of video gaming, resulting in a unique contemporary style. This is complimented by a combination of Latin, blues and ragtime vibes which expose the student to a variety of related genres.”

The book itself arrives in a truly dazzling cover:

The ten pieces within hint strongly at their flavour with these evocative titles:

  1. Super Sleuth (solo)
  2. Bee-Baba-Do-Bop (duet)
  3. Mr. Pickwick (solo)
  4. Insomniac (duet)
  5. Daylight Robbery (solo)
  6. Piña Colada (duet)
  7. Jail Break (solo)
  8. Back in the Saddle (solo)
  9. Carefree in Rio (duet)
  10. Till Next Time (solo)

From the sophisticated swing of Super Sleuth to the closing number Till Next Time with its contemporary twist on ragtime, the pieces as a whole have the vibe of showstoppers, and with a fabulous variety of style, pace and mood.

Wedgwood writes with the ease of a composer playing on home turf, and I can only imagine students and amateur players being positively thrilled with the results. From the Cuban tinge of Piña Colada to the western stomp of Back in the Saddle, and from the bossa nova colours of Carefree in Rio to the joyous jazz of Daylight Robbery, there’s not a weak piece here.

The four duets are well-conceived, primo and secondo sharing equal interest and difficulty, and suitably spaced apart. And speaking of difficulty, the book is pitch perfect for intermediate players as advertised, Wedgwood living up to the family tradition of having a keen understanding of pedagogic progression.

The Book

From early beginnings just a few years ago as Elena Cobb’s in-house self-publishing vehicle, EVC Music has followed an inspiring trajectory from cottage industry to the big time, the business increasingly recognised as a force to be reckoned with.

With EVC Music’s refreshed focus of delivering just a handful of high-quality scores each year, it’s no wonder that Next Level looks and feels like a labour of love. Make no mistake: this is a high quality score, with a cover that is as sturdy as it is striking, and high quality off-white pages within.

Aside from the contents page, the 32 pages are given over to the scores themselves. Here, the notation is crisply engraved and excellently presented. There is just the right amount of fingering, all of it helpful, and it’s clear that great care was taken over the presentation.

The Backings

Mention must also be made of the excellent backing tracks, produced by Wedgwood himself. These are available as a separate purchase, the payment unlocking access to stream them online.

There are 20 tracks for the 10 pieces, each of which enjoys both a recording of piano+backing as well as the backing alone for play-along use. To avoid confusion I should note that the backings do not include the individual duet parts, although either part works well when played alone with the backing.

Given Wedgwood’s background and reputation in the world of media music, it is hardly a surprise that these backings offer full and delicious orchestrations that are completely apt for each style, and are of the highest industry-standard quality.

These backings certainly raise the bar for others who include such tracks with their compositions. They are, in a word, stunning.

Closing Thoughts

I really couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this new score. These pieces really are a blast, and I have no doubt that they will be a big hit with intermediate students, particularly tween and teenagers.

The score itself is very keenly priced given its high quality, and while some may be surprised by the additional cost of the backings, I have no hesitation recommending teachers avail themselves of a set for use in their studios.

It is a huge tribute to Elena Cobb that her publications just keep getting better; at this point their quality certainly equals and often exceeds that of larger commercial publishers. Of even greater importance, she is very much in tune with the contemporary piano education scene, and that’s a point which is quickly borne out by her canny choice of music to bring to market.

So I’m just going to say it. In terms of the balance of musical quality and buzzing accessibility, combined with an outstanding product, EVC Music has again raised the bar. This is quite possibly the publisher’s best yet!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.