Sandy Owen

One Late Hour With a Steinway

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Sandy Owen's lifelong love affair with the Steinway piano began in the early '70s when he was a student at UC Irvine. The keyboardist fondly remembers sneaking into the school's practice rooms at 3 a.m. and playing all of the music that later inspired his 25-year recording career, from jazz (Ramsey Lewis, Les McCann) to classical. This relationship hits an exciting high note on his exciting solo piano venture, One Late Hour With a Steinway, a double-CD set and the first release from his Ivory label released in conjunction with The Paras Group. A free-flowing, highly improvisational and heartfelt journey through ten of Owen's favorite pieces, both original and traditional, the first disc is remarkable in that it was all recorded in one take, with no rehearsal and no preplanned set list. The second is a fascinating retrospective of his varied career, including music from his '70s trio, Iliad, and his solo career, which began with the release of Soliloquy in 1982. While one of Owen's goals with this ambitious release is introducing himself to a new audience, longtime fans will appreciate the fact that the piano CD offers a lush, adventurous, and highly melodic style which may bring back fond memories of his three previous solo piano projects: Soliloquy (1982), Euphonia (1984), and Carols (1984). The ten songs flow beautifully over the course of 51 minutes, from the melancholy opening ballad "For a Gentle Friend" through the whimsical blend of classical and gospel choir influences on the inspirational "Higher and Higher." Along the way, Owen offers hypnotic and gentle meditations ("A Hug From a Friend," "He Belongs," "Slow Dance at Midnight"), whimsical time signature experiments ("Peacock's Dance"), and folksy, seductive mid-tempo ballads ("Back Home," "Irish Tune From County Derry (Danny Boy)"). Many of the songs from the second disc, subtitled Far From Yesterday: 25 years of Music From Sandy Owen, reveal a melodic, cool-grooving style which presaged a style that would later become known as smooth jazz. The 15-tune sweep begins with the mood-swinging title track (played with Iliad) and carries on through the chamber music-influenced "Distances" (from Montage, 1984). Most of these pieces find Owen interacting seamlessly with horns (soprano sax on "La Vida" and "Freeway Fantasy," flugelhorn on "Victory Theme," English horn on "A Farewell," and oboe on "Traveling") or cello ("A Farewell," "End Credits From 'The Forfeit'"); a handful ("Rainbow," "Beanface Boogie," "Heart Crossings 1 -- Passage") are solo piano.

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