Phillip Strange


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An exercise in musical intellectualism and introspection, this album is not for casual listening. Phillip Strange's playing is hauntingly beautiful as it unfolds during the performance of a play list of eight of his originals and two standards. Kudos to Strange for including a couple of familiar pieces so as to provide a framework to allow an assessment of pianistic skills. It is quickly apparent that these skills are indeed formidable. Having accompanied vocalist Cathy Garcia-Segal on two occasions, this is his second album as a leader. The first, New Truth, was recorded in 1991. Although this is just his second album as leader, Strange has been an active performer, composer, and music educator for the past 25 years, and at the time of this session, was pursuing a doctorate in jazz performance at the University of Miami. The influence of Bill Evans on Strange is undeniable. The presence of Keith Jarrett is also felt. But the lyricism, the sensitivity to the melody, and the spacing of a minimalist approach all recall Evans. Throughout the session, Strange explores a number of harmonic ideas staying well within the bounds of reason and thoughtfulness. Listen to his rendition of "Over the Rainbow" as he treats this tune much like a classical sonata along the lines of Frederick Delius' "Five Piano Pieces" -- clean-lined and unassuming but magnetic. This tune is one of the brightest on a set that is otherwise serious to the point of being somber. His "Sacred Heart" is almost ghostly with its serene opening Tibetan-like chimes, a serenity that is shattered by the opening chords. This is not Delius, but more like Igor Stravinsky. On "Don't Explain," Strange moves back and forth between the melody and improvisational digressions. Strange's way with the piano demands close attention by the listener. Luckily, this album has much to offer to keep that attention and is recommended -- especially for those who are studying or want to study piano.

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