This is Chilly Gonzales’ second long playing foray in to the world of the solo piano, eight years after the first. The keyboard maverick, more commonly found with an arsenal of electronic sounds at his fingertips, has an intimate relationship with the instrument, expressing for the second time some private asides for moments of contemplation.
For this is an area of Gonzales’ work that takes him far away from the public eye. For the recording of this particular album he spent 10 days hold up in the Studio Pigalle in Paris with little more than his piano for company, able to express some innermost thoughts.
Gonzales clearly knows his way around the instrument, and the compositions here are freshly minted and instinctive. One in particular, the opening White Keys, stays in the head long after listening, its gently undulating contours given out with appealing simplicity. True to its title, Gonzales does not touch a single black key as the composition unwinds, so that it sounds like a cross between a high school doodle and a piece of Erik Satie-esque reflection. There is a an appealing delicacy that runs through much of this music, and when applied to pieces such as Venetian Blinds it takes the listener towards the sound world, if not the melodic or harmonic content, of Maurice Ravel.
Elsewhere the harmonies acquire the lightest of blues flavours, with a few added notes scrunching up the harmony in pieces like Kenaston. Evolving Doors has more energy too, with its octave displacements chasing each other round the keyboard. These are the pieces with more rhythmic impetus, though the recurring riff in Escher – which will have you scratching your head as you recall a similar riff from elsewhere – also plants a strong seed.
Gonzales has an obvious affection for the music of Michael Nyman, and these pieces sometimes come across as short outtakes from The Piano, and as such are the sort of music you might expect to hear in a high street coffee chain in twilight hours. And therein lays the slight problem with this music, that it retreats in to the background rather too easily. For sure it has its personal nature – and hearing Gonzales’ fingers on the keys helps that aspect – but the voicing of the piano is resolutely one dimensional.
A largely attractive album, then, but one that by its finish may well have you yearning for an injection of the funk we know Gonzales can provide. With this in mind Solo Piano II can be a frustrating experience if listened to as foreground music. Put it on as a background to household tasks, mind, and it will work some subtle if not fully lasting magic.