“Reflections” is an album by pianist John Paris of Oroville, CA. The album is a Jazz/Contemporary style piano mix, leaning more heavily on the jazz styles and interweaving some really beautiful Contemporary piano chords and progressions throughout. There is also some influence from the best of the pop and jazz piano styles heard in the 1980’s. In addition, John’s “chops” are clearly state of the art and his music is the perfect balance between of complexity and accessibility. The songs on “Reflections” are sophisticated enough for any piano connoisseur to appreciate, and easy enough to listen to so as not to put off the casual listener of piano music. It’s really an impressive collection of work, and it’s obvious that John put some concentrated time into his efforts.
On the whole, “Reflections” has a feeling about it that’s smooth as silk. There is nothing in the album that’s in any way offensive or abrasive. There’s little tension, but it’s not necessarily a relaxing album either. It’s simply there, right in front of you, demanding your attention in a very gentle way. I’ve spent some time with this album at the end of my day, with a glass of wine and some dim lighting. I can tell you that the ambience it creates is perfect, and the experience is magical.
Favorite tracks on the album would be three, six and eleven. All three distinctly different, each track offers something to the listener that’s new and exciting–in a very familiar way. John’s style is unmistakable.
Track three, “Cold Winter Night,” is not as dark and icy as it might sound! Actually, this track is really quite warm, and brings to mind the view of a beautiful snowfall from the inside as opposed to the outside. I imagine being in a warm, safe building and looking out the window at the wonder of the winter night, sipping on a cup of warm coffee. The piece is written in a major key, and has a theme that almost sounds like a contemporary hymn. Sweet, lovely, and so warm. The piece ends with a beautiful F# Major seventh chord run up the piano followed by graceful ornaments in the right hand, which “twinkle” almost like little snowflakes themselves.
Track six is called “Joyful Heart.” Have you ever had one of those days where everything was right in the world? Where you’re in that place where nothing is nagging at you, good things are happening, and all is right and as it should be? “Joyful Heart” will transport you to that place. It takes me to the brightest of sunny days in the driver’s seat of my car, rolling down the highway with the windows open and not a care in the world.
Track eleven also has a feel that one wouldn’t expect from it’s title. “In The Country” is written in a minor key, and has a feeling of tender melancholy. It’s not in any way depressing, it’s actually more reflective than that, in a slightly dark sort of way. One might consider how awe inspiring it is to consider just what we’re looking at when we’re in the country. The creation of our planet, and our place in it are what come to my mind when listening to this piece. Musically, this piece stands out in that it’s “colder” than any of the other pieces on the album. It also lacks the jazz influences that are so prevalent in the rest of his tracks, focusing more on the Contemporary piano styles and progressions.
“Reflections” is really a fine piece of work, and it’s become a favorite in my collection. I wouldn’t recommend it if you really don’t like smooth, modern jazz styles. But who doesn’t like that? I guess there are a few out there. : ) I recommend this album very highly!
You can purchase “Reflections” at John Paris’s website, www.johnparismusic.com. You can also find the album on Amazon, ITunes and CDBaby, among many other popular websites!
Christmas Past and Present
I was thrilled to review the most recent recording released by John Paris, “Christmas Past And Present.” As usual, John masterfully arranges the songs on the album to create a warm and welcoming mood. His jazzy approach to the piano has always been fun, inviting, relaxing, invigorating, and any combination thereof, but he really pulls out all of the stops on this one. Combining jazz and new age piano styles, you won’t be able to listen to these holiday songs the same way after John’s finished with them. I should also add that many of the songs on this recording are tunes that are heard less frequently around Christmas time. “Ode To Joy,” “Sing We Now Of Christmas” and “Ding Dong Merrily On High” all offer a refreshing change in listening to a Christmas album, along with many others. Several of the songs on the album were written by John himself as well, “A Waltz For Christmas,” “Christmas Bells,” and “The Santa Shuffle.”
Where to even start with this music? Sometimes it’s so difficult to choose my “top three” from an album because all of the songs are written, recorded, arranged, and mastered so beautifully that it’s nearly impossible to do so. This is one such album, but I think if I had to choose I’d begin with track five, “Sing We Now Of Christmas.” Here we have an energetic arrangement that moves along with an Irish jig sort of feel. The Celtic influence is very clear in this recording, and it’s done extremely well. This is a risky approach to arranging a piece, as it’s often easy to create something rather “cheesy” sounding when attempting to emulate this style. John Paris has nothing to worry about as he makes his way up and down the piano in a wave of sound that will take you to another land for the holidays. Bright and cheerful, this is a track that peaks perfectly in the middle, eventually bringing us to a quiet ending that doesn’t lose it’s powerful enthusiasm.
Track six takes us into a melting pot of chords and melodies that drip like butter from the piano keys. “I Heard The Bells” is John at his Jazzy best, layering a rich and musical theme on top of a variety of jazz chords and rhythms to melt even the coldest of temperatures. The playing on this piece is reminiscent of the styles of some the greats in piano jazz. Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi both come to mind in the approach and structure of the song, and it’s sure to be a favorite for those who enjoy the sounds of vintage piano jazz in it’s prime.
John points us in the direction of his strong Italian-American heritage through his arrangement of “Santa Lucia,” an Italian song that is often sung and played around Christmas time in Italian families worldwide. This happens to be one of my favorite songs as well, so John really struck the jackpot with this one! Here we have the sweet melody of Santa Lucia interwoven between the nostalgic progressions that John is known for, in an intimate and romantic piano setting. The left hand is particularly interesting in this recording, playing down various scale runs and alternating the progression while keeping the right hand melody intact. At about a minute in it alternates between two chords allowing the right hand to improvise over top, and it’s simply magic. The piece ends with build up to a chordal walk down to the final resolution of the piece. Listening to this makes you really want to sit and enjoy a bowl of pasta in a fine Italian establishment by candlelight with a loved one. I’d have to say that this is probably my favorite track on the album.
I’ll conclude by saying that if you’re not a fan of jazz music, this album probably isn’t for you. Jazz is where John’s passion is truly at, and over the years he has mastered it like nobody else I’ve had the pleasure of working with. That being said, “Christmas Past And Present” is a brilliant holiday album that I’ll be listening to for many years to come, and it displays craftsmanship at the piano that is rarely heard in today’s world. John has also announced that sadly, this will be his final holiday recording. I give it a five star rating and my highest possible praise, and I would recommend it to anyone who is may be looking for a unique addition to their musical holiday experience. Way to go John.
Jazzy Kid Songs
Don’t let the album title and cover art fool you! “Jazzy Kid Songs” is jazz pianist John Paris’s latest recording, and it most certainly is not a kids album. The project title refers to the musical selection it contains, not the audience it’s intended for. This master musician has taken popular kids songs such as “Shoo Fly,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Row Row Row Your Boat” and arranged them to jazzy perfection. You’ve never heard these songs sound like this! That being said, there’s nothing offensive in the listening and the music really does reach across the various generations to provide something enjoyable for everyone to enjoy, adults and children alike!
If you’re not familiar with John Paris and his music, you’ll certainly want to hear more of it after listening to “Jazzy Kid Songs.” As is typical with John, the playing style on this album is smooth as silk and very easy to listen to. There’s always plenty of joy to be found in John’s playing, writing, and arranging. Nothing depressing, nothing brooding, sad, or angry. There are moments of reflection in John’s style, and even that is done in a way that is thoughtful and uplifting – a rare quality that John should really take some pride in owning. The arrangements on this recording are the epitome of “feel good” music, and can only serve to brighten a gloomy day, and heighten one that’s already fantastic! Having heard these songs as a kid myself, there’s a familiarity to them, and that only adds to the already blissful listening experience. There is a treasure of warmth, nostalgia and feeling that has gone into this recording, and it very much deserves to be heard.
The first of my “top three” picks on this album is the opening track, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” John begins the album with an earful of major seven chords, flat nines and thirteens, and pentatonic movement, before making his way into the familiar theme that we all know so well. He then elaborates on that theme, creating some variations that follow which are as interesting to listen to as anything I’ve heard. Mid-song John transforms the arrangement into a breakdown of what almost sounds like an excerpt from an impressionistic piece, with the hands flowing over top and in between each other gracefully to create some really elaborate sound textures. Truly remarkable. There’s a variation that takes place toward the end of the piece that dances around on the high end of piano like a jazzy music box, then quickly makes it’s way down the piano back into the mid and low ranges, building up to a powerful ending! This is creativity at it’s absolute best.
“Itsy Bitsy Spider” is another one that’s not recognizable at the start of the song as flowing chords, rolled perfectly and followed by graceful right hand scales make their way up and down the piano. The theme enters, very freely and almost reluctantly, with sprinkles of high end sound dancing throughout the chords that we all remember. John isn’t afraid to throw a little Latin into the mix either, which he does about half way through when he changes up to a steady Bossa style. Don’t expect him to stay there though! John doesn’t finish up this arrangement without first taking you back to a pleasant seaside to sit and enjoy, reflect. Then he’ll intrigue you with a variety of scale patterns and some chromatic movement, before resolving the piece in a way that will have you listening to this one over and over. This is probably my favorite arrangement on the album.
“She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” is just so much fun! Probably the most “fun” and upbeat tune on the recording, John introduces a funk feel with some help from his left hand, and a strong and steady walking bass line. There’s a touch of gospel in this arrangement as well, and overall the piece seems to have a rather “old timey” approach that’s quite nostalgic. Coupled with John’s modern jazz style of playing, we have a piece that is a mixture of the musical ages, and I can say honestly that I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Musical brilliance.
“Jazzy Kid Songs” is an album that everyone should have a listen to, whether or not you appreciate jazz. As I said before, there’s absolutely something for everyone in this recording, and I stand by that. Now pour yourself a Cabernet and start listening, you won’t regret it! My highest recommendation!
The Long Goodbye
Reviewed by Pam Asberry
Inspired by his own personal experiences as a caretaker for his wife, who suffers from dementia, “The Long Goodbye” is composer and pianist John Paris’s intensely personal and excruciatingly beautiful musical tribute to caregivers everywhere. As he searched for ways to keep his beloved companion’s life as peaceful as possible, melodies occurred to him; these were eventually turned into the fourteen pieces on this album. Sensitively and artistically performed, the music is varied and interesting, emotional and heartfelt, rich and rewarding.
The title track, “The Long Goodbye” opens with somber, unpredictable bass that is joined first by an ostinato broken chord accompaniment and then a solemn melody punctuated throughout by flashing right hand arpeggios. There is a contrasting middle section in which the melody becomes more upbeat but then the darkness returns. “Heart of Gold” features pulsing left hand chords topped by a gorgeous melody and put me in mind of a wedding processional. “Eternal Night,” a sound painting of the night sky, its background splashed with melodic bits of shooting stars and constellations, is a favorite. “There Was a Time” is a moving, lyrical ballad; I could imagine words sung along to this tune, a poignant musing on better days. “Everywhere That I Look“ begins as a tender waltz, becomes downright festive in the syncopated section middle section, but ends quietly.
As Paris says in the liner notes for the album, “There is an exquisite beauty in the pain born for the deep abiding love for this wounded angel” and the next piece, “Wounded Angel,” reflects both deep affection and profound melancholy. “Wings of Love” opens with fluttering chords and seemed like a companion piece to “Wounded Angel,” ending with an anguished resignation. “Surrender” is a solemn expression of the inner peace experienced when one chooses to stop raging against circumstances beyond his control. The flowing and expansive “Sweet Love” is a musical depiction of a great love that transcends emotion and survives even the most horrific of challenges and is another favorite.
“Portending” has a jazzy feel, snippets of sound perhaps representing early signs of the onset of an illness and the complex and varied emotional responses to that evidence. The flowing “River of Life” brought to mind a favorite quote from Marcus Aurelius that seems to fit with the theme of the album: “Repeatedly dwell on the swiftness of the passage and departure of things that are and of things that come to be. For substance is like a river in perpetual flux, its activities are in continuous changes, and its causes in myriad varieties, and there is scarce anything which stands still, even what is near at hand; dwell, too, on the infinite gulf of the past and the future, in which all things vanish away.” Similarly, “Long Ago and Far Away” ebbs and flows in a vivid reflection on bitter-sweet memories of a life together that is gone forever and is followed by the tenderhearted “Vaize D’Amour.” The final track, “Going Home,” is buoyant and hope-filled, perhaps in anticipation of the time when illness and suffering will end and lovers will be reunited.
In “The Long Goodbye,” John Paris has created a stirring blend of love and longing, despair and hope, regret and joy. Very highly recommended!