Any new album from Craig Armstrong is an eagerly awaited event. His latest album "Piano Works" initially came out as a limited edition earlier this year. The album has now been brought out on general release and has proved to be well worth waiting for. As the title suggests all the works on this album are for piano, and all are written and played by Craig Armstrong. Among the pieces are several examples taken from Armstrong's film music or previous albums, though others are new to this collection. Either way the particular treatment on "Piano Works" is such that even familiar works are given a new perspective. The recordings were made in Paris in 2003, and some have been subject to a little imbellishment from the electronics department. Armstrong wanted the album to sound fresh and modern so he commissioned sound effects artists to craft a variety of electronic effects to be used on the recordings. These range from the standard mastering techniques (e.g. EQ, compression and reverb) to more esoteric effects such as delays and notes or chords played back in reverse.
The range of styles and influences is quite wide, and yet the whole album is remarkably unified. This is surely the definition of "fusion". There are influences from jazz, classical, popular song, lounge, soundtrack and the avant-garde. Some of the tracks can be described as "impressionistic", with "Hidden" being impressionistic in the ambient sense with subtle sound effects, and "Weather Storm" being impressionistic in the classical sense with rippling arpeggios. The electronic post-processing on "Gentle Piece" adds different timbres to the general piano sound, and that on "Diffuse" takes this process even further. "Fugue" is in a contrasting tempo with plenty of movement and percussive sounds, and effective use of reverse chord effects. "Delay" uses delay effects as the name suggests, and "Childhood 2" adds electronic echos and children's playground samples, before turning into a duet for piano. Many of the other tracks are traditional lyrical pieces, built along standard song-writing forms, though effects and other twists are included: "In my Own Words", "Laura's Theme", "Glasgow Love Theme", "Angelina", "Leaving Paris", the bluesy "Waltz 1" and the more experimental "Childhood 2". In common with many albums these days if you leave the final track playing then, after a period of silence, a bonus track is heard. Both the bonus track and "Hymn 3" start with simple melodic lines which then evolve into a series of improvisatory variations.
The overall impression from the album is one of intimacy as though the composer is revealing important details about his inner self. Even the title of the opening track "In My Own Words" suggests that this album is a personal one to the composer. Although not overtly blue, many of the tracks seem to be introspective. Nevertheless it is the sort of open music which allows the listener to form thoughts and ideas rather than having these thrust upon him or her. If you like music which can be appreciated from any position on the spectrum from relaxing and ambient to deep and thoughtful, then this album is for you. This CD comes highly recommended and is available from Amazon.co.uk in the UK or Amazon.com in the US. You will also find quite a lot of additional supporting information about Craig Armstrong at the composer's website CraigArmstrong.com. The site provides a lot of information about the recording of the "Piano Works" album including interviews and trailers of the accompanying film. On some cable channels you may see video material of Armstrong playing pieces from the album, and a DVD film is also to be released.
A full sheet music transcription of the music on this album is now available from Music Room.