Yet Another Love Story
Reviewed by Donovan Johnson
Milana Zilnik is a jazz pianist in the Contemporary piano genre, and has recently released her newest album, “Yet Another Love Story.” Let’s begin with the obvious – Milana is an incredibly talented pianist, with a very fluid jazz style and a technique that’s clearly taken a great deal of work and effort to achieve. There isn’t an abundance of jazz in this genre of music, so whenever I get recordings like this one to review it’s always a special treat and a breath of fresh air. Add to that the artistry and talent that Milana possesses, and you have an experience worth repeating over and over again.
“Yet Another Love Story” is a recording that makes it’s way through the many stages in a modern romantic relationship. Beginning with “Anticipation,” working through “Joy,” “Disgust,” and “Sadness,” and finally ending with “Love,” this is an extremely well thought out recording. It’s clear that Milana was creating music to suit the theme of the album, walking herself through the journey itself and manifesting that journey through music. Interestingly, you can hear the thoughts and emotions in the chord progressions. You can visualize and relate to the experiences that Milana is communicating through song. Just as she herself took this journey, she now takes the listener through it to experience and to become a part of. The result is a piece of work that requires engaged listening and a readiness to connect with memories and experiences, past and present.
The first of my top three picks on this album is track two, “Surprise.” Have you ever been interested in someone, only to find that the feeling was mutual? That’s what this piece is all about. Bouncy, lively, and all over the keyboard, “Surprise” captures the feelings of excitement and elation of this very special time in a person’s life. It’s also quite unpredictable, which is once again fitting, and not a musical accident. Milana has thought through every aspect of this recording from the artwork, to the flow, right down to every single note and chord progression in every song. These are the traits of not only a master musician, but a master artist. Milana has sculpted and created pieces within a mural of artwork, using the forethought of a skilled mathematician. That said, it’s no *surprise* that “Surprise” expresses all of this beautifully.
“Fear” is a dissonant piece that begins in the low section of the piano, bringing to life a confusing and foreboding introduction that leads to the mid-range on the piano. From here, we hear lots of atonal movement and dissonance within the hands, as each one creates a melody that clashes with and counters the other. This creates tension in the listener, which is built upon as Milana makes her way up and down the keyboard with her right hand. One moment she’ll be playing in the higher registers only to jump back down into the lower ones a moment later. The piece is confusing indeed, just as it was intended to be, not only in it’s emotional content but also musically. Think of the old phrase that we’ve been subject to at one time or another, “It’s complicated.” That’s exactly what this piece conveys.
The final track on the album is also my third pick, “Love.” This piece is quite the opposite from “Fear,” just as it should be. A lush melody can be heard weaving in and out of the beautiful, melodic progressions in the piece. Here we have a gentle yet stable sounding finish to the album, rounding out the music on the recording perfectly and bringing our journey to conclusion. Amazingly, Milana is also able to interject a sense of much more yet to come in the music of this piece, making it the only song on the album that speaks to the future as well as to the present. You listen, and you know that while the journey has ended, the story is far from over…
“Yet Another Love Story” is a brilliant album by an incredibly talented artist, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys piano jazz and music that says something “a little different.” It may not be what you’re used to, which is exactly why you’ll love it. It’s masterfully composed, played and recorded, and great lengths have been taken by Milana to appeal to a broad range of listeners without compromising her style. “Yet Another Love Story” gets my highest recommendation.
Where Giants Roam The Earth
Reviewed By Pam Asberry
Milana Zilnik is an extraordinary pianist, composer and singer-songwriter. Milana was born in Ukraine, lived in Israel for many years, and has resided in Canada for the past ten years; this has provided her with rich experiences to draw from in her musical story telling. A performer and recording artist since childhood, she improvises like nobody’s business and finds musical inspiration everywhere, catching melodies “on the fly” and using them to create unique, imaginative music embracing a variety of styles – everything from folk, blues, opera and Middle Eastern to rock and jazz.
Milana describes her ninth and most recent album, “Where Giants Roam the Earth, as “an original piano solo crossover of classical, jazz and rock genres, composed for the biggest (until this year) upright piano in the world.” As the story goes, sometime around 2012, Milana discovered an artist who called himself “ThePianoGuy” (no relation to “The Piano Guys”) and fell in love with his music, especially the sound of his piano, like none she had ever heard before. She later discovered that “ThePianoGuy” was none other than David Klavins, a well-known piano maker who created the biggest upright piano in the world, which he nicknamed “The Giant.” In 2015, Milana’s husband surprised her with a trip to Germany, a meeting with Klavins, and an hour-long session on “The Giant.” Instantly, Milana knew that she would one day compose specifically for that piano. “Where Giants Roam the Earth” is Milana’s dream come to fruition.
A musical fairy tale, these fourteen compositions spin a musical tale of a journey to an imaginary land where Giants roam the earth, beginning in summer and traveling through autumn, winter and into spring. As I listened to this album – a soundtrack to a story of the listener’s invention – my imagination ran wild, and my experience grows deeper with each additional hearing.
The album opens quietly with “Invitation to the Dream,” drawing the listener in with its mesmerizing ostinato left hand pattern topped by a captivating right hand motive that slowly builds to a mysterious climax. By the end of this track, I could hardly wait to arrive at the land “Where Giants Roam the Earth,” energetic and flowing, heavily syncopated and with a strong jazz feel, energetic and flowing, jagged and sparkling at the same time. From there we move into the “Summer Tale,” as bright and joyful as a perfect day in July, making beautiful use of the upper registers of the piano.
The fourth track, “The Piano As Big as a Tree,” is unlike anything I have ever heard. When Milana met “The Giant” for the first time, she improvised a piece on the spot and recorded it on an inexpensive camcorder just as a memory. But her husband fell in love with the piece and insisted on transcribing it by ear note for note so that she could replay the piece and record it properly. Exploring the depths of this piano with its full range of color and dynamics, Milana’s musical choices are enchanting, her fascination with sound is evident. Each change of harmony is an event, as chords are left suspended in the air, strings vibrating and overtones gathering; thunderous booms are followed by melodies as tender as dewdrops. For me, “The Piano As Big as a Tree” is the heart of the album and is hands down my favorite. I could listen to it again and again (and I will!)
“Hidden Inside” is mysterious and contemplative and put me in mind of the depths of a cavern filled with shadows and light. With “Autumn Tale,” the music becomes darker and more somber, perfect for the season when the days get shorter and colder and everything turns brown and drab. “Burning” is a change of pace, a smoldering dark bass punctuated by sparks in the upper register, an apt musical description of a joyful autumn celebration. “Haunted Waltz” has an intimate romantic jazz feel and would be a great piece to listen to sitting in front of a warm fire with a special someone on a cold autumn evening.
“Winter Tale,” with its ostinato left hand, tinkling upper register intervals and luscious harmonies, put me in mind of snowflakes falling and is a favorite.
“Walking Away” is almost conversational, alternating between darkness and light, brooding and thoughtful, resolving with optimism. Indeed, sometimes the best option is to walk away. “Solitude” is quiet and comfortable, followed by “Spring Tale,” another favorite – a musical painting welcoming the spring sunshine, flowers sprouting through the snow, and the budding of the trees. “Catching Up” hurries without stopping – is whoever was left behind in “Walking Away” attempting a reunion, perhaps with the desire to make amends?
According to Milana, “the journey ends as most journeys do, coming home and bringing music from that distant land, where pianos grow big as trees, where composer’s fantasy meets magnificent musical reality.” And the album’s final track, “Coming Home” perfectly captured the feeling I always have at the end of my travels: happy anticipation of returning to my creature comforts and loved ones at home tinged with regret at having to leave wonderful places and new friends behind.
“Where Giants Roam the Earth” is a unique and unforgettable sonic adventure, and I give it my highest recommendation. Companion sheet music book available too!
Reviewed By Pam Asberry
Milana Zilnik is no shrinking violet. According to her website, “soulful singing and complex piano melodies are [her] signature, but she embraces a variety of styles – everything from folk, blues, opera and Middle Eastern, to her soft spots for rock and jazz.” Now, in her latest album, “Notte” (release date June 1, 2019), she explores the genre of minimalism.
As the name suggests, minimalism involves stripping down music to its barest essence. First developed in the early 1960’s, minimal music has entered the mainstream, with such composers as Philip Glass, John Adams and Michael Nyman enjoying long and distinguished careers. Although it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, minimalism is currently experiencing a surge in popularity. Often, pianists composing in this style perform on a “prepared” piano – a piano with objects placed on or between the strings, or some strings retuned, to produce unusual tonal effects. Milana recorded “Notte” on the new piano from Native Instruments, “Noire,” sampled from Nils Frahm’s concert grand, custom intonated and augmented with a felt damper, and featuring an innovative particles engine – loops of mechanical noises, triggered by the notes themselves and following the tempo, adding unique and atmospheric percussive elements to the album.
The Italian word “notte” means “night,” a setting that provides the perfect context for Milana’s experiment; each of the twelve tracks of the album is an improvisation for the twelve hours between dusk and dawn.
In effect, this is a free-floating, ambient chronicle of nighttime. With expressive titles such as “Reflections,” “Quietude,” “Longing” and “Calmness,” this music is diaphanous, gentle and atmospheric. Favorite tracks are “Twilight,” with an ever so slight jazz vibe; the faintly haunting “Longing”; and “Dreams,” with soft wind chimes in the background. However, I believe this album will be best enjoyed as a whole, from beginning to end, perhaps as a soundtrack for sleeping.
What do you get when you combine creative genius, technical prowess, a willingness to explore new frontiers, and the utilization of the best of music technology? “Notte,” that’s what. This album is a must-hear for lovers of ambient, minimalistic solo piano. Recommended!