Reviewed by Cathy Oakes
The third album that I have reviewed from John Burke, Chirality, is perhaps my least favorite of his works. Of course, this is a personal opinion. That being said, the concept behind this creation is brilliant. However, I feel that some of the pieces, individually get sacrificed on the altar of musical form and thematic concept. There are flashes of brilliance in this music. But each time I hear one of those, I can almost feel it being held back in order to “fit” it into the overall theme of the CD.
The word “chirality” comes from the Greek word for hand – an interesting concept to be used by a pianist. It literally refers to an object or system that is distinguishable from its mirror image, that is, it cannot be superimposed onto it (such as the human hand). Throughout this CD, that concept is evident. There are “mirror images” of themes. However, they are distinguishable sometimes in subtle ways, other times in more noticeable variations. It is even possible to hear bits of the theme from one piece being used in a slightly different way in subsequent pieces. As, I said – a brilliant concept!
The CD begins with “Echoes,” a very fitting title for this piece. The hands are literally echoing each other, sometimes in inverted form. “Clouds Marching” has a melody that literally dances on the keyboard in parallel octaves in jig-like fashion. The piece is somewhat “folksy” and is pleasing to the ears. This piece finishes with inversions being played simultaneously – very interesting.
“Snowstill” is peaceful and restful – a welcome respite after the first two very active tracks. “Slipstream” has a fun, carefree melody. However, the form seems somewhat forced in this piece. “Orbits” is one of my favorites on this album. It begins quietly with an ethereal, beautiful melody. It is somewhat repetitive in the middle of the piece with the melody getting lost in the repetition. However, the theme and spirit of the piece return in a beautiful way at the end of the piece. It leaves you wanting more.
“And Beyond” is a very strong piece with amazing technical acrobatics. Once again, the repetition in the accompaniment gets a bit tiring. But the sheer force of the piece overcomes that problem with little difficulty. “Nova” is very promising in the beginning – sort of evolving as it goes. It gets incredibly involved in the middle of the piece with the melody crossing above and below the accompaniment. The constant motion leaves the listener nearly breathless.
“The Coming Together” begins with a catchy, relaxed statement of the melody. That relaxed style continues throughout the piece. It’s a more subtle version of “Clouds Dancing.” “A Greater Leap” is an outstanding display of technical ability featuring a section where Mr. Burke literally strums the piano strings. Very interesting and innovative!
The CD ends with, perhaps my favorite piece. “Chirality” is delightful! Themes from other pieces return in abbreviated form in this piece. It’s somewhat of a restatement of the entire CD – a perfect ending!
There is no doubt that Mr. Burke is a technical master of the piano and a creative genius. For those looking for a technically breathtaking experience, this CD will be a wonderful experience. I am looking forward to more music from John Burke. Just for my personal preference, I hope in his next album, he will free himself from all constraints and simply allow his musical genius to run free! I give this album 4 out of 5 stars and highly commend Mr. Burke for his brilliant concept and technical mastery.
Reviewed by Cathy Oakes
Before listening to Reverie, John Burke told me that this CD was a different beast, altogether from his first CD, Synethesia. Trust me, he knew what he was talking about! This album is nearly as different from his first one as day is from night. It shows me that, as a composer and a pianist, John has great diversity and versatility. That is a trait that is to be appreciated and highly respected. In the music of Reverie, it seems that Mr. Burke pulls out all the stops and allows himself creative freedom to “go with the flow.” He seems to be able to dispense with all the “labels” and restrictions of a specific genre (or anyone’s idea of a specific genre) and simply compose from the heart.
He begins this wonderful CD with “Awaken.” This piece has an almost lilting melody and rhythm that truly does waken the senses and whet the appetite for more. In “Music Maker, Dreamer of Dreams,” John muses on the keyboard with a free-style, carefree theme, creating layers of sound and adding chords that climb up and down the keyboard with a catchy melody dancing above.
“Escape” literally leaves the listener breathless! The tension builds throughout the piece with the driving left hand that creates suspense, conveying the desperate need to escape the clutches of the pursuer. It would nearly seem hopeless, if not for the final chord, with the Picardy third, transporting one to a brighter major key and giving the sense of final victory. He follows the suspenseful ride of “Escape” perfectly with the light and airy “A Midsummer Daydream.” This piece is winsome and uplifting, wandering in and out of the main theme with easy, breezy sections allowing the mind to wander and rest.
One of my personal favorites, “Head in the Clouds” is a floating waltz with a beautiful, airy melody floating brightly in and out. Near the end of this piece, Mr. Burke uses a very rapid “pizzicato” technique that I have never before heard used on the keyboard. Beautiful! “Bliss,” is a happy piece dancing up and down the black keys with a catchy, almost “folksy” melody. It is written in the key of F# Major (not a common key) and lifts the heart of the listener nearly causing one to want to dance with joy!
“A Musing Musician” is truly that! The listener gets a sense of John not only playing the piano, but also playing WITH the piano, much as a child would play with a favorite toy. He gives the sense of being truly enveloped in the moment and allowing his fingers to dance at will on the keyboard. He ends this piece by simply drifting off into the unknown. Perfect ending!
The word “rhapsody” is defined in the dictionary as “an effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling.” That is exactly what Mr. Burke portrays in his next track, “Rhapsody.” He travels all over the keyboard with intricate patterns and an enthusiastic musical expression of his feelings. One feels moments of true rapture singing through this piece.
In “Wistful Thinking,” another of my favorites, John sets the mood with a 6-note, wistful melody that returns over and over throughout the piece. He develops this melody in several ways during the composition, but always returns to state it simply and beautifully. And, of course, my absolute favorite, “Imagination” ends the CD perfectly. He lets his musical imagination run wild in this playful piece with a fun melody and “jazzy” style. In the middle of this piece, John includes a wonderful section of jazz improvisation. The little embellishing passages in the right hand were so much fun to listen to that I literally found myself chuckling!
Every composer wants to demonstrate a musical maturing process as they release subsequent albums. John Burke has certainly done that with Reverie! And this man definitely knows his way around the keyboard! I give this CD 4-1/2 stars out of 5 and highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to much more music and many more CDs from this wonderful, talented artist!
Reviewed by Cathy Oakes
In John Burke’s first album, Synesthesia, he literally paints a canvas filled with beautiful, rich colors. But he does it with music. He defines the word “synesthesia” on the CD cover as, “When the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.” And believe me, that is exactly what he does with his beautiful music. The listener hardly needs to look at the song titles. The music, itself paints the hues perfectly.
John comes from a musical family and was heavily influenced by the music of George Winston and Ray Manarek, keyboardist for the Doors. His harmonies, chord progressions and technique definitely reflect their styles, but do it in a unique way that is all his own.
Each of the ten tracks on this album bears the name of a color. Beginning with “Indigo,” he leads the listener to literally see the rich tones of the color. He paints the deep tones of indigo blue while bringing out the beauty of the color with the bright melody that shines through the entire piece.
“Amber,” one of my two favorites on this CD, is so warm and inviting with its beautiful harmonies and depth. The following track, “Sage,” brings forth the mystery, yet restfulness of the shade. The patterns in this piece brought, to this listeners mind, not only the color, but the wind blowing through sage plants in the desert. I could almost smell the tangy scent floating on the wind.
“Violet” is smooth with a subtle melody that causes one to really engage in the listening. In “Gold,” John portrays not only the color, but the shimmer and glitter of pure gold glistening in the sun. “Crimson” is written in a minor key and displays the dark richness and depth of the hue. This is not your ordinary red! It’s brooding, but slightly racy. It brings to mind the lush thickness of a deep red carpet.
The first glistening notes set the tone for “Emerald.” The late 60’s/early 70’s rhythms and chord progressions of the Doors, whose music influenced Mr. Burke are perhaps most evident in this piece. “Teal,” another of my favorites brings to mind the deep teal hues of the ocean with the sun reflecting off the surface, disguising the depth of the currents beneath.
“Silver,” like “Gold” portrays a glistening surface, but this time with a little less shimmer. One senses an inherent strength lying just under the shiny surface of this piece. A very fitting depiction. The CD ends with the piece, “Cobalt.” It is interesting to me that Mr. Burke chose to begin and end this album with rich shades of blue. This piece brings to mind the fathomless depth of an early evening sky with the stars just beginning to twinkle.
John says that he envisioned each color as he was writing the music. Some titles were decided before his hands went to the keyboard. But most were simply conjured in his mind as he played. It is quite impressive that he was able to so aptly translate the vision to the keyboard. My only complaint is that he didn’t paint every single hue on the color wheel. I could have listened to his beautiful music for hours on end.
This is excellent work by an outstandingly talented and gifted musician. I give this CD 4-1/2 stars out of 5 and recommend it highly. I love the music and the whole creative idea behind the album! Fabulous work, Mr. Burke! I am looking forward to hearing more from this very creative artist!
Reviewed by Darla Bower
John Burke is a composer/pianist who has composed film scores, directed musical theater and boasts a varied musical experience as a talented composer/pianist. Orogen is his sixth release. The definition of Orogen is: “a region of the Earth’s crust where mountains are formed.” Loving mountains as I do, I couldn’t wait to hear this CD. On the inside of the cover the liner notes say: “within each composition, an underlying melody gradually reveals itself.” So the notes and title set the musical expectation of an evolving compilation of melodies where by the end of the album the mystery of the melody is fully revealed.
Orogen opens with the track Arise. This piece has a very energetic melody with a faster tempo. With a majestic rock feel to bring the piece into being; Arise is a welcoming ascent into the musical experience that forms mountains made of music. Spring Tides, the next composition on this album, is a motivating melody to set the mood for accomplishment. Almost more of a dance in its feel, this brisk piece really got me moving! Another favorite on the album is Autumn Blaze. The melody line in this piece is played with the left hand, above and then below the right hand, which keeps the tempo steady with an energetic pattern at the center of the piano. Like each piece we’ve heard so far, this song boasts of technical mastery, energy and skill.
Batholith starts out as a quieter melody and slowly builds in crescendo of musical enjoyment. This piece drew me in as the listener to see what new the height the melody would fly me to. A bit more ambient than the others, this piece changes its feel throughout. The melody line goes from being pronounced, to being molded into the textures of the piece. Batholith is the longest song on the album at 8 minutes and 44 seconds, but held my interest for curiosity to see how it would end. The ending draws the piece to a gentle yet majestic close. It did not disappoint, I loved it!
Riverswept was yet another favorite. I could almost feel the angst and swell of a river as the melody both ebbed and flowed. The melody smoothly transitions into the combination of technical skill and wooing the river to flow masterfully as his fingers sweep over the keys. I could easily imagine the water traveling swiftly and sweeping me away. After the river crests the ending flows perfectly into a gentler reverie. Windflower ended up being my absolute favorite on the entire CD. This composition teases the listener with an enchanting melody. I loved the softer sounds this piece offered. Windflower is the most reflective piece on the album, luring the listener with its peaceful and charming resonance. John uses jazz chords and fluctuating tempos throughout this piece to create the gentle experience of a sun filled afternoon in the countryside. The melody sings into the upper register toward the end, bringing it to a graceful conclusion. Simply beautiful!
In Earth Breaker you could almost feel the mountain ranges pushing toward the surface of the earth as the melody cascades over the keys. The mountains are almost pushing this fast-moving melody toward the surface of a mystical and challenging shift. This composition is also a bit different from the others in that there are traces of romantic era chord progressions and techniques used, a nod to the great masters. The lower register brings this regal composition to a surprising and unexpected closure, a truly unique ending to an innovative piece! The title track Orogen has more of a pop feel, and brings the album of ten embracing solo piano pieces to an inspiring and energetic close.
Throughout the entire album you can hear the skill and technical accomplishment of this composer/pianist. I definitely could hear the influence of George Winston in this album, combining some elements of jazz seasoned with concise new age style. I highly recommend Orogen for those who enjoy engaged listening and well composed musical complexity. I will be adding Orogen to my list as motivating music to conquer the day.
Orogen is available on www.johnburkemusic.com, Amazon, CD Baby and iTunes. For more information on John Burke, please be sure to visit his website.