A New Soundtrack for Old Feelings: Dave Deason’s From Another Time

French composer/pianist Erik Satie (1866-1925) was a proto modernist in music and occasionally, writing. His work provided inspiration for later generations’ genres such as minimalism; ambient et al. His music could be stately or playful. The length of his compositions drastically varied from thirty seconds to extended suites for piano.  According to him, every composition was the perfect length to suit its purpose. While he retained his eccentric playfulness, as he grew older he began to further solidify this theories. He envisioned what he termed Furniture Music. This would be music that went with and added to the ambiance of a room or place. This was an early precursor to things like John Cage’s (1912-1992) composition 4’33 (1952) in which the concert hall remains completely silent for said amount of time, the ambient noise of the venue being the composition, changing from venue to venue. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was offered a pavilion for the worlds fair (1958) in which he envisioned a sort of installation with music to match the atmosphere of the place as created by Satie or his more discordant Gemini and Organized Sound progenitor Edgar Varese (1883-1965).

Although what Varese and Satie did stylistically was drastically different, both sought to draw inspiration from and enhance an area’s ambience through music and it’s, on Satie’s part at least, subtle integration to the place. These theories would later morph in the hands of others into occasional gimmick or camp and can be seen as the immediate precursors to muszak. Now with the advent of MP3 players and other technology one can travel anywhere and bring hundreds of albums, held in a device no bigger than a pack of playing cards. The convenience of technology has made it so that in a variation upon what Satie had envisioned, one could have the right music providing the soundtrack regardless of where they are.

This ability to have the right music to suit any situation or place should have made it so that music is now looked at and assessed differently. The best music posseses components of art and entertainment but that which leans more in one direction is of equal value when presented at the right time.

Dave Deason is a Portland based composer and multi-instrumentalist (piano/woodwinds). His latest album From another Time is mood music but not as termed in a pejorative way. The entire CD is thematic, not necessarily in subject but more importantly, in atmosphere. The basic description would be ballads possessing an all pervading lushness and sweetness as can be experienced by the kiss from eating one of the better dark chocolates, or the chill good Whisky produce as it is sipped. The tracks alternate between Dave on solo piano or with string section.

One of the reasons this album works so well is Dave’s strong background in classical music allows for richer layering of instrumental voices, never having the flat feel that even some of the “bigger” names in jazz have fallen into with their “With Strings” albums. Using all originals and not going with the traditional fare of standards for this project, he also avoids falling into the trap of making an uneven marriage between classical and jazz which often leaves fans of both indifferent.

“Nocturne” opens the album, a perfect aural mission statement. This piece shows how the strings are present not just to serve as filling but as an active part of the overall composition and execution. “Nocturne” conjures up scenes from an imaginary black and white movie, the heroine out on a balcony, wind making her dress gently sway as the eyes of the city blink neon below. Towards the end of the piece the strings swell over the soloing of the piano and you know someone is going to get kissed. This piece also serves as an initial introduction to the impressive sonics of the album. There are no empty spaces to slacken the tension, nor any over use of studio magic to make the sound come at one block like or overly cold, as can be a danger in this digital age.

“Elegy” is the first solo piano piece. Dave is once again well served by his classical background as his playing shows strong melodicism and crisp articulation. This is by no means a straight out jazz album and the piano never lapses into overtly virtuosic soloing which would take the listener out of the mood.

One of my other favorite solo piano tracks is “I’m Calling You”. With its repetition of a melodic phrase which weaves and disappears through a sort of stuttered and descending structure. With its air of mystery, this shows influence of 20th century composers such as Anton Webern (1883-1945) and impressionistic elements akin to Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).

“From Another Time” is a melancholy piano remembering something while the string section commiserates with it. It is richly textural, offering what could be the artistic illegitimate child of Nelson Riddle and Max Steiner. At the halfway mark in the song is plucked bass playing over soaring violin and bowed cello added to by a shimmering piano.

This album is inspired by a feeling of a bygone time yet does not feel inauthentic as we are listening to one of our contemporaries looking back over his shoulder at what had come before, inspired by it yet not seeking to trap it under museum glass. The album is sixty minutes long with pristine sound and brief liner notes. Having done scoring work for the independent film From Kilimanjaro with Love (2008) has also inspired and left its mark on Dave, as the album has an overall cinematic feel to it, a tone poem for the celluloid age.

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