Isle of Words Forgotten
Charlotte's Roads Before Her
A Song You've Heard Before
Rick Cutler :
First Melancholy, Then The Night Stretch
First Melancholy, Then The Night Stretch, the sophomore solo piano album from multitalented multi-instrumentalist Rick Cutler, is a marvelous second effort that delivers upon the promise of his debut disc, 'Sanctuaries' (which received words of praise from David Bowie's keyboardistMike Garson and former Sonny Rollins' pianist, Mark Soskin. An eclectic artist, Cutler eschews the categorization of his music, but cites the depth of the compositions and their improvisational elements along with an overall meditative feel as coming together in a way which should have appeal to lovers of jazz, classical, ambient electronica, new age, smooth jazz and folk music. Pristinely recorded so as to bring the sound of the piano into the listener's living room, the disc should easily find its way onto the shelves of collectors devoted to labels such as ECM and Windham Hill.
Cutler, who is also an accomplished percussionist - he performed in that role at the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass, (which was written for and performed at the opening of the Kennedy Center) and appears on the original recording of that piece with Mr. Bernstein conducting - and drummer, he currently tours the world in that capacity as a member of show business legend Liza Minnelli's ensemble, is truly one of the most versatile artists in music today. In addition to spending nearly two decades as keyboardist and musical director for tap dance master Gregory Hines, Cutler has performed on Broadway in such hits as including Hair andThe Wiz, writtenmusic for television, radio and film (including the Emmy-nominated theme for Dateline NBC and the MSG Network theme for the New York Yankees) and appeared on numerous jazz, pop and classical recordings.
It is perhaps his versatility as a sideman that makes Rick Cutler such a distinctive artist on his own efforts, drawing from a wide array of source influences to give each of his pieces a uniquely eclectic sound that can be clearly identified as belonging to its creator. Having studied with jazz legend Chick Corea, Cutler displays a similarly meticulous touch at the piano and an equally scrupulous attentiveness to space, so as to give all of his compositions an appealing attractiveness that draws the listener into his variously fascinating soundscapes, each one with its own narrative quality.
The opening "Isle Of Words Forgotten" is a slowly unveiling prelude that sets the tone for the disc. The hymn like quality of the piece relates an introspective nature that characterizes Cutler's piano music, yet a subtle lyricism reaches out in a way as to betray a desire to appeal to audiences on its own terms. The result is a refreshingly appealing sound that is variously calming and exciting.
"Gentle Nightmare" despite the dreamy quality implied in its title possesses an attractive rhythmatism that clearly identifies Cutler as an accomplished jazz pianist with the ability to move his music in different directions at the same time. The folkish melodicism of the slowly advancing "Charlotte's Roads Before Her" while in many ways recalls the Americana stylings of Aaron Copland's work, at the same time evinces a restrained emotional appeal similar to the solo piano compositions of two jazz masters, Keith Jarrett and Abdullah Ibrahim.
The various compositions on the album throughout combine together naturally to create a suitelike atmosphere to the date. "Alien Landscape 1," which finds Cutler's piano played over a synthesized windstorm utilizes an exotic eastern sounding scale to create a feeling of intrigue that is eerily relaxing at the same time. The composition "Debussy" is a dedication to the French modernist composer whose "symbolist" stylings can be clearly seen as an inspiration for Cutler's own musical philosophy, which is apparent in the relationships between his titles and compositions, as in "From Then Till Now," a narrative tale that begins statically with a hypnotic repeated left hand line that is eventually complemented by a right handed melody that utilizes elements of an AfroCuban montuno to create a contrasting mood.
Despite its paradoxical title, "Measuring Eternity" is nonetheless one of the date's more melodically appealing pieces, straightforward in its lyricism and forthright in its optimism. "Noise (For Tony Williams)" is Cutler's homage to the iconic Miles Davis drummer who is one of his greatest influences in his other musical role as a world class drummer. The terse "Alien Landscape 2" once again superimposes the sound of the wind upon Cutler's piano, this time with a Spanish tinged melody to contrast natural and electronic sounds.
"Song For Noel" is another moving dedication by Cutler. The piece, which displays both feelings of joy and sadness, is a fitting memorial to the popular jazz violinist Noel Pointer, with whom the composer performed. "Indian Sunset," one more striking composition inspired by the beauty of nature, again manages to evince a full range of emotions – from happiness to longing, in a manner that emphasizes the humanity of Cutler's music. The two pieces "A Dance" and "Hymn" correlate to two of the oldest functions of musical composition in a manner that while somewhat conventional, still identify with Cutler's personal approach to his own creative impulses; while another dedication, "Thank You (For McCoy Tyner)" demonstrates the pianist's interconnectivity with the romantic lyricism of the modern jazz piano tradition.
The final segment of the trilogy, "Alien Landscape 3," again brings together the sound of the wind and that of Cutler's piano, here in a darker more mysterious manner. "Who Needs Words" is a stirring blend of emotions, restrained yet real, expressing feelings not needed to be spoken of. The penultimate piece "A Song You've Heard Before" is another meditative exploration with melodic attributes that raise it above simple static impressionism. The appropriately titled closer, "Going Home," is like the opening "Isles Of Words Forgotten" a lively gospel flavored piece that brings the date full circle to end on an optimistic note.
The work of Rick Cutler is the personal expression of a talented artist who has traveled the world making all kinds of music, the sum total of which has given him the ability to create compositions that are both individual and universal. In choosing to perform solo at the piano he reveals the spirit in him that inspires his songs, songs full of heart and soul that fill the air with the searching sound of peace and tranquility.