Howard Riley

At Lincoln Cathedral

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Part of Heliopause's At Lincoln Cathedral series, this album features modern jazz pianist Howard Riley playing a Steinway grand piano inside the cathedral. In his liner notes, Riley points out how rare experiences like this are, and the first thing conveyed by the excellent recording is his enjoyment. The pianist explores wide dynamics, triggering the acoustics of the building, playing with them. At Lincoln Cathedral belongs to the man's more mainstream sets, with a focus on melody and a jazzy feeling, even though some pieces are clearly entirely improvised and resolutely modern, "Ocean Walk" providing one of the strong moments. Other highlights include the exuberant "High Lights," the rather exploratory "Upon Arrival" (Riley is wonderful at testing new waters), and the tender yet creative reading of Monk's "'Round Midnight." The series aims at presenting stellar performers in a sonically engrossing environment, and that is exactly what you get here. If the set itself may be a bit on the soft side (but far from boring), the sound quality provides the true incentive to acquire this release. Disc one presents the whole performance (one hour) in stereo, with the cathedral's warm acoustics wonderfully captured. Disc two features three of the seven pieces performed recorded in binaural sound by Dallas Simpson -- binaural microphones are mounted like ears on a recording head, giving a very close approximation of "being there." Simpson moves around a lot during "High Lights," panning the sound of the piano back and forth, altering depths and finding interesting acoustic spots inside the building. "Timeless" and "'Round Midnight" are recorded in a more static way. These binaural recordings make an interesting addition, but the quality of the stereo disc is already more than satisfactory. Disc two also contains a DTS Surround Sound mix of "High Lights" and a Quicktime video file of "Timeless" (rather small image and a dark, static capture from too far away).

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