• Review from Piano-Heaven by Stephen Cairns

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    It’s the first, and I must say it certainly sets a precedent! I’m very excited to announce the the first review for Set on a Hill was recently posted on Piano-Heaven’s website (click the name to go to the link if you would like). Mr. Cairns has a beautiful way worth words, and a scary sense of perception of one’s music. Uncanny even. So, I could not have been in a more respectable set of hands for my first review. It’s posted below. Please visit Piano-Heaven and let them know how much you appreciate their support for solo piano music. There are so many wonderful artist and this is definitely a wonderful place to find them!

    To the casual browser in a music store, the cover to ‘Set on a Hill’ by Chad Lawson might suggest a blues album could be contained within. Certainly, the image of the composer surrounded by traffic in the middle of a busy American street (with not a hill in sight) offers little hint to the serenity of the music to be found on this wonderful gem of a CD.

    Produced by renowned Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman- ensuring first class production values- the omens looked good from the onset. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the variety and consistent high standard found throughout this CD.

    It opens with ‘Will’. One might assume this is dedicated to the producer of the album as it is clear that Chad Lawson holds the music-maestro in high esteem. However, the title actually refers to an individual’s will- that is, what it is inside each and everyone of us that controls what we do and do not do. It is very much up to the individual listener to conjure up their own images for this piece, but I was struck by the slow tempo maintained for the first six minutes. Could this be the reflective side in each of us that consciously or subconsciously considers past experiences to guide our future paths? Minimalist in style, this piece is incredibly relaxing. At six minutes, the tempo changes and I love the flurry of notes that suggests spontaneity- living for the moment. The piece soon returns to its gentler original form. I adore this track, and am impressed by the unhurried way in which the story unfolds. The piece lasts approximately nine minutes, giving the composer time to tell the story and the listener the opportunity to immerse themselves in the music.

    ‘Sojurn’ is more upbeat. Reminding me a little of the style of Wayne Gratz, the track is a melodic treat from start to finish. This was one of the first pieces the composer wrote when he decided to record the album- the start of an incredible musical journey.

    The story behind Track 3, ‘Promise Made on Signal Mountain’ is as touching as the music itself. The composer met his wife’s Grandfather only once before his passing- at their home at the foot of Signal Mountain in Tennessee. Together, the two sat by the fire where the elderly gentleman asked only one thing of Chad; that he take good care of his grand-daughter- something he was only too pleased to do. Chad’s wife, Barbara, and her grandfather enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship, and to this day he regards it as an honour that he was accepted into the family. Chad explains how his wife’s grandmother (known as Grams) is beautiful, generous and very alert, and that each time he sees her, he is reminded of the promise made that evening. This composition is especially beautiful and somehow manages to do justice to that special moment. This is my favourite track on a CD packed with highlights.

    ‘Change of Season’ is a track that nearly never was! The composer played around with the piece on a number of occasions, feeling that it was ‘out of place’ on the album. Eventually, he hit upon a version that more suited the tranquil nature of the CD, and ironically perhaps, it remains one of many highlights after repeated listens! It’s a curious track. From the onset, it seems to tell a story, asking lots of questions along the way. It’s engaging, relaxing and perfect chill-out material.

    ‘Set on a Hill’ is a thought-provoking piece, sometimes moody, sometimes uplifting, hinting perhaps of other musical genres. As the composer himself explains, “Set on a Hill was never intended to be the album’s title, but after hitting the last note, I knew it encompassed exactly what I wanted to say with this project.” It is one of those pieces where the listener should pour themselves their favourite drink, sit back and let the music do its work.

    Track 6, ‘Reflections’ is regarded by the composer to be the least improvised piece of the entire album, expressing a wish for the finished product to be “clean in its presentation”. The end result is a short, delightful and simple melody; another most pleasing piece to the ear.

    ‘She Walks in Beauty (The Wedding Song)’, as the title would suggest, is the piece to which Chad’s then to-be wife walked down the aisle. This composition is every bit as gorgeous and touching as the special moment which it represented. Chad regards it as an honour to have written all the music for the wedding of Barbara and himself, and reveals that the original form of the composition included the accompaniment of a violin. He intends to release this version later in the year.

    The penultimate track of the CD is entitled ‘Passing Country’ and was inspired by the breathtaking scenery that Chad witnessed as he travelled through Spain at night. “It was such a beautiful drive,” reminisces Chad, and the fond memories of that evening are reflected in this gentle and heavenly composition.

    ‘A Goldfish Named George’ is a title that will not grace too many CD track lists, but here it is closing this outstanding album. I thought at first the composer was dedicating the final piece to a beloved pet, but this is not the case! In fact, Chad was apparently watching an old Audrey Hepburn film (the title of which he is keeping close to his chest) and, in a slightly surreal moment, imagined George the Goldfish falling in love with another goldfish. Chad puts this, er, original thought down to his British humour- “I have a silly personality!” As a British person myself, I agree this is entirely plausible, or alternatively, it might have something to do with what is on the table on the back cover!!! Either way, it is fun way to close a remarkable CD, with little flourishes capturing the fish’s more energetic moments.

    I mentioned earlier about the impressive variety within the CD, whilst still maintaining an impeccably high standard throughout and never deviating from a relaxing and rewarding listening experience. This is reflected in the number of composers that spring to mind when listening to this CD. Ludovico Einaudi, Wayne Gratz, Michael Gettel, Stephan Moccio and Michael Jones are just some of the stellar artists that spring to mind. Chad Lawson is in great company.

    It is hoped to conduct a Piano-Heaven interview with Chad over the Summer. His story reminds me of Stephan Moccio’s, who has written music for many top-name artists, including Céline Dion, but felt a calling to perhaps get back to his roots and release his own album. Chad has toured the world with Julio Iglesias, and is part of a very successful jazz-band, but he too has felt a calling. From the listener’s perspective, this is a very good thing, as Chad Lawson has an undisputed gift with the piano, and has created a stunning album from start to finish. No wonder it has been nominated for Whisperings’ ‘Album of the Year’.

    Chad’s sense of humour comes through clearly in his Biographical notes on his web-site. Perhaps, on reflection, I have been reading too much into the album’s cover….

    I cannot praise this CD highly enough. Any fan of relaxing, melodic piano music should love this album. I give ‘Set on a Hill’ my highest recommendation. “This is some of the best music I’ve heard in years,” proclaims Will Ackerman.

    It is hard to disagree.



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