GARY WASHBURN: Earth Life: October Full Moon – Gary Washburn & Alex Czerny, piano/ Doug Johnson & Noa Eads, percussion – Milan Records

by | Mar 3, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

GARY WASHBURN: Earth Life: October Full Moon – Gary Washburn & Alex Czerny, piano/ Doug Johnson & Noa Eads, percussion – Milan Records M2-36657, 45: 32 (11/25/13) **1/2:

I enjoyed this music by Gary Washburn in the “background music” sense of things. I cannot honestly say it left a strong impression. I was, however, interested to know more of Gary Washburn’s background, for I was not really familiar with him.

Washburn is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and University of Boston and is clearly an accomplished pianist. He is also a dedicated and successful high school music teacher in Hawaii and a much sought after pianist and arranger. He has also done a lot of work in the jazz/pop realm as a composer and arranger with his brother, Kent Washburn, and his band in Hollywood and elsewhere.

Earth Life: October Full Moon is, essentially, a concert suite of eight different movements or pieces that comprise – in the composer’s words – “programmatic music – ie. Music that is inspired by non-musical ideas.” Washburn’s booklet notes and the descriptors of each movement (with titles like To Pass…Like Breath or The Body is A Temple) state the work as a whole examines man’s relationship to the earth. The recording is live and the audience appreciation seems polite and enthusiastic throughout.

I can’t get too wrapped up in the concept or the titles because all programmatic music with which I am familiar is somewhat suggestive of the scene or mood or story implicit in the titles, which; in this case, seem a little ‘new-agey.’ So, I suggest that this suite be approached just as a listening experience without looking for any profundity.

I enjoyed the listening for the most part but it just did not leave a solid or lasting impression. The music is nice but a bit of a pastiche. There are some Latin moments, some light jazz riffs with whole tone influenced harmonies and some passages that felt a little Balinese. Actually, the whole thing sounded much more like a continuous improv around some through-composed piano lines; although it is quite possible the whole piece – both piano parts and all the percussion – is fully notated.

As a compliment, there were a few passages that reminded me a little of Chick Correa. Ultimately, however, I was not quite sure what to make of it. To be sure there are moments in Earth Life: October Full Moon that were quite nice; To Pass, Like Breath and the closing Reflection are examples. As a whole, I didn’t feel the work gels, especially as part of a whole “programmatic” concept.

Musically, this feels to me to be mostly light jazz. It is certainly not what most would consider “contemporary classical” (ie ‘new music’) and it is not really hard core “progressive” jazz either. Many may like this better than I did and for what it is. I did find this pleasant; just a little non-descript for my tastes.

—Daniel Coombs