Grooves for Piano Dudes

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Heather Hammond is well established as one of the best-loved educational composers in the UK today, with more than 100 publications in print (piano and woodwind) from a variety of publishers.

The last time I took a good look at Hammond’s music was in my review of her Ballads Without Words, brought to us by EVC Music.

In this review, I’m considering a contrasting series of her music from the same publisher. Grooves for Piano Dudes currently includes three volumes of which the second and third (with a special Halloween theme) have just recently been released.

The three books are all suitable for intermediate players, and between them offer 37 fresh Hammond compositions in jazz, rock, blues and boogie styles…

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Paul Birchall’s Blues, Boogie, Jazz & more…

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Paul Birchall is a veteran keyboard and piano player with a career in commercial music spanning four decades of touring the world with the likes of M People, Jim Diamond, Snake Davis and Wang Chung. Now based in Manchester, he composes for TV, film, theatre, and for his own record label.

Some readers may know of Birchall’s Daily Expressions, previously published by the enterprising EVC Music. Now he’s back with a brand new publication. Blues, Boogie, Jazz & More (again from EVC Music) offers a superb mix of nine pieces in contemporary popular styles with full backing tracks, suitable for intermediate piano players…

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Ludovico Einaudi: Underwater

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Ludovico Einaudi’s early solo piano albums, which included Le Onde (1996), I Giorni (2001) and Una Matina (2004) established him as the most well-known contemporary piano composer, his most classic pieces ubiquitously appearing in soundtracks and school concerts alike.

Over the years, Einaudi has consolidated his phenomenal success with a string of albums that have expanded his sound. Eden Rock (1999) introduced a wider instrumentation, and string parts have continued to take a particularly important role on albums such as In a Time Lapse (2013) and Elements (2015). Electronic elements and treatments have featured too, notably on Divenire (2006) and Nightbook (2009).

Underwater is Einaudi’s first full album of new solo piano music for two decades. The music was composed while the composer was isolated at his home in Italy. Working without any distractions or the usual commitments that come with his busy schedule, we are told that it is his manifesto for life, and a statement on a period during which the world around him was quiet and silent.

“I felt a sense of freedom to abandon myself and to let the music flow in a different way. I didn’t have a filter between me and what came out of the piano, it felt very pure.”

As a sometime fan of Einaudi’s work, I found Underwater strikingly different to listen to (as have others), and have been looking forward to considering the sheet music folio, which has recently been published by Chester Music / Hal Leonard, and is the subject of this review…

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The New, Improved Microjazz

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It has been four decades since Christopher Norton’s remarkable Microjazz series practically reinvented piano education in this country and beyond with its infectious cocktail of classical technique and popular contemporary stylings.

Microjazz quickly won recognition the world over as a landmark series, sold over a million copies, and spawned a plethora of spin offs that included More Microjazz, Microstyles, Improvise Microjazz, Microjazz Duets and collections for a wider range of instruments.

The repackaging of the piano solo materials as the Microjazz Collections in 1997 simplified the brand, and made the progression through levels more obvious. Those Collections were again rebranded in 2011, and are receiving another facelift from this year. This time, the Microjazz Collections are also joined by two wholly new, more advanced music books.

In this review I will introduce these new stars in the Microjazz galaxy, and consider the latest updates to the existing books.

But first, let’s celebrate this incredible publishing phenomenon by recapping its extraordinary history…

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Josh Winiberg: Change

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UK-based composer Josh Winiberg’s album Change was released back in 2018, delivering ten tracks of contemporary music in the vein of the hugely popular Ludovico Einaudi, who Winiberg respects and acknowledges as an important influence.

Winiberg’s ten compositions were originally recorded with piano, string quintet, guitars and electronics. It is a measure of the popularity of the recording and the quality of its music that a solo transcription for piano has now been published by Editions Musica Ferrum, the subject of this review.

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Yann Tiersen: Kerber

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Yann Tiersen is best known for his brilliant and suitably quirky soundtrack to the movie Amélie, which yielded such contemporary classics as the Waltz from Amélie and of course Comptine d’un autre été.

Tiersen’s varied career has taken in further soundtrack work as well as solo instrumental recording projects, the latest of which is the album Kerber, released last month. Kerber maintains the signature sound that his fans have come to love so much, mixing lush piano lines with a gorgeous bed of electronic musical elements, ranging from the subtle to retro kitsch sci-fi.

Comprising 7 tracks which combined last around 46 minutes, Kerber is one of those albums within the new classical space which I think deserves repeated listens, and which I believe will stand the test of time.

Whether this is music that solo piano players will find themselves performing is another matter, but to help satiate the enthusiasm of Tiersen’s fans, Hal Leonard have just published the music book. So do these pieces work without the album’s other musical trappings? Let’s find out…

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The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology

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Faber Music’s growing series of Piano Anthology books are a continuing source of joy, and have been enthusiastically received by several of my regular adult students.

I have reviewed several of the other anthologies here. Spoiler alert: in all cases I have been impressed both with the intelligence and value of the music selections and the quality of the publications themselves.

So it great to be welcoming a new addition to the family with the delivery of The Faber Music Contemporary Piano Anthology, which offers 52 “beautiful neoclassical pieces for solo piano”.

Let’s find out whether it lives up to the high standards set by the series…

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RSL Classical Piano

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It used to be possible to joke that piano exam syllabi, like buses, arrived three at a time. But with the addition of the Music Teachers’ Board to the mix and fresh arrival of a “classical” syllabus from RSL Awards (Rockschool), students and teachers have five fully and equally accredited UK boards to choose between.

A disclaimer at the start. Eagle-eyed readers will soon spot that in the nine RSL Classical Piano books the name Andrew Eales appears as a “syllabus consultant”. While I didn’t actually contribute directly to the syllabus, I did offer a little feedback in the later stages of its conception.

On the plus side this perhaps gives me particular insight, but at the same time I will try to maintain distance, as ever avoid bias, and focus on providing the independent factual outline that you need in order to evaluate for yourself whether the syllabus might be the right fit you.

So let’s take a look…

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Kurt Schwertsik: Collected Piano Works

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When Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik’s Albumblätter: collected piano works landed on my desk in 2018, I was intrigued, but like too many books it ended up buried in my review backlog.

Fast forward to Summer 2020, and the newly released recording of this music by pianist Aya Klebahn caught my attention on Apple Music. Second time lucky, I was quickly hooked…

Publishers Boosey & Hawkes tell us:

“Kurt Schwertsik’s music is characterised by ever-changing moods and is idiosyncratic with a refreshing lightness of touch. Though a pupil of Stockhausen, the composer rejected serialism in favour of new forms of tonality. His search for an ‘alternative’ modern culture draws inspiration from Satie and the Dada movement.”

Intrigued? A little belatedly, here is the Pianodao review…

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Ola Gjeilo: Night

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“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”

So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available on CD from Decca (purchase from Amazon UK here) and sheet music from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).

Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.

So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night

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