Fiona Joy – Signature-Solo – Audiophile Edition – Blue Coast BCRSA 5025a stereo-only SACD, 40:41 ****1/2:

(Fiona Joy – piano & vocals; Lawrence Blatt – guitar)

Like many contemporary or New Age pianists, Fiona Joy was classically trained. Consequently her early recordings Portrait Of A Waterfall and Angel Above My Piano represent the New Age and Classical worlds respectively. Among her many admirers is Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman who has collaborated as guitarist and producer. Joy (her full name is Fiona Joy Hawkins) is noted for melodic compositional themes that combine influences like George Winston and Michael Nyman with the lyrical classical nuances of Chopin. There is a soulful resonance to her playing. Another facet of her music is the utilization of high-end pianos.

It appeared that Fiona Joy would be a natural fit for Blue Coast Records. Founded by Cookie Marenco, the label is noted for its proprietary Extended Sound Environment (E.S.E.) recording process. Without overdubs or headphones, the artist is capable of showcasing their talent to a maximum degree. Fiona Joy’s latest release Signature-Solo is a demonstration of this union. Utilizing live tracking to analog tape, the music is mixed to Double DSD Digital on SACD. Eleven tracks of original compositions are played on an 1885 Steinway. The opening cut, “Ceremony” is a rhythmic, exuberant piece that begins in high register and gradually descends. Her technique is precise and lyrical. Switching gears, “Grace” is ruminative with solemn undercurrents. This meditative aura is present on many of the songs. She performs “Once Upon Impossible” on solo piano and in a duet with guitarist Laurence Blatt that includes some ethereal vocals.

Complementing the brilliant instrumental is deft songwriting acumen. On lively cuts like “Invisible Train” the sustained tempo and crescendos are moving. Slower numbers have an acoustic reverberation, especially on “Fair Not” with creative sustain pedal. “Signature” demonstrates a palpable melancholy as the arrangement develops the intimacy that frames the number. The gentle flow of “From The Mist” has melodic and romantic inflections with structure and lilting whimsy that showcase the pensive nature of this music.

SignatureSolo is a tour-de-force instrumental album. Additionally the SACD format is superb. All of the tonal detail of the Steinway are enhanced by state-of-the-art technology. Hushed moments are as dynamic as volume flourishes. The various piano elements have a natural acoustic resonance. There will be great anticipation for the next release by Fiona Joy!

TrackList:  Ceremony; Grace; Fair Not; Once Upon Impossible (Solo Piano); Calling Earth; Invisible Train; Signature; Once Upon Impossible (Duet); From The Mist; Little Star

—Robbie Gerson