Sunday, December 16, 2018

Howard Riley - Live in the USA (No Business, 2018)

The British pianist Howard Riley spent time studying, teaching and playing in the States as well as in his home country, and it is this nomadic spirit that allowed his playing and technique to develop continuously throughout his career. Riley notes in the brief liner section that he was experiencing a period of transition when these solo performances were recorded in New York City and Buffalo during the mid 1970's. The sound of the album is crisp and clear allowing the listener to hear Riley explore the entirety of they keyboard, beginning with the opening track where he frames his improvisation by playing inside the piano for a bit, creating unusual sounds that are then absorbed by his more conventional piano playing. Conventional doesn't mean stilted though, given the strength and the imagination that Riley can call upon in developing improvisations that are capable of building hypnotic narrative structures and sections of freedom that can last twenty minutes or more. The music is somewhat reminiscent of the fully improvised solo piano albums and concerts which Cecil Taylor used to perform, like Silent Tongues or For Olim. The warm accessible sections will be mixed with bracing cascading cells of freely improvised piano, and the dynamic nature of these yin and yang opposites provide the locomotion that drives the music relentlessly forward, or spontaneously composing, using the length and breadth of the instrument. The second two performances show the exciting exploration of a musician who is in the process of refining his talent, approach to the keyboard and the arts of composition and improvisation, allowing him to adjust his performance by extending and expanding his personal approach to the instrument. His skill and technique are at a very high level, but they don't overwhelm the listener and the music remains thought provoking throughout the disc, with a sense of narrative which seems to propel the sound, texture, and shading of his music. Riley is a channel for the musical information and technique to flow, refining his music as both a concept and a language, and is is fascinating to hear. This is a minimally designed package with a brief statement from Riley and discographical information. The music contained within is memorable, that of a major player during a period of growth and renewal. Riley's music is complex but never overwhelming, and fans and students of modern improvised piano should take note. Live in the USA - No Business Records

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