The Wishing Well/Zone Music Reporter
The Wishing Well is pianist Christine Brown‘s eighth album (although her ninth recording came out recently) so the first thing one might expect from this release is a high level of quality in both performance and production. It’s a correct assumption, as Brown demonstrates throughout the CD’s twelve tracks that she has a strong control of her instrument’s multiple “voices” from the deeply dramatic and powerful to the nuanced delicate and sedately simple.
Musically, The Wishing Well offers both variety and coherence, owing to Brown’s sincere, romantic and nostalgic (at times) way of playing. She is usually a heart-on-her sleeve composer and artist, i.e. don’t come looking here for moral or emotional ambiguity. Her music has a straightforward intent to it, usually translated through a fluid melody. Sparseness can be heard at times, e.g. Stronger, especially its opening, is less flowing and more a series of brief musical statements (the song also has a slight air of melancholy to it, which the title might lead one to expect otherwise). However, for the most part, what The Wishing Well has in abundance are “feel good” songs that aim for your heartstrings but in an honest, unassuming manner so that the listener never feels manipulated. This is not an overly sweet, saccharine concoction. Brown occasionally allows the darker, more shadowy evocations into some tracks, but you would be hard pressed to find the music here moribund, morose, or downbeat. At its least “cheery” it is reflective, introspective and it’s those times when Brown concentrates on doing “more with less” meaning the rolling chords and fluid melodies are replaced by individual note clusters, centered round a musical theme.
The opening title track is a sprightly tune, not too fast though, so that the energy of the piece is mellow not explosive.Pendulum swings back the other way (okay, I couldn’t resist that), beginning with a series of notes, played in swift fashion but with a discernible hint of darkness, and at the one minute mark, Brown starts to fiddle with the time signature and overriding melody, shifting from one refrain to the other, increasing tempo, then slowing it down (you’re getting the titular reference, right?). Believe it or not, this is not disorienting in the least. There is a sense of comfort in one of the melodic phrases Brown incorporates into the song, and her playing is so “open-faced” that it dispels any sense of negative emotion. Daybreak starts off, again evoking its title, with a series of sparse refrains, both on the upper and lower registers, as if Brown is trying to capture in music the slow progression in sky colors as the sun slowly makes its way up from the horizon. More dramatic passages ensue later on, again mirroring the title’s visual reference. Blessing in Disguise (quite an original title, that!) floats on slow tempo notes that speak of tenderness tinted with some somberness. The mood lightens on Water Reverie which opens in a semi-minimal vein but gradually builds into something more substantial. As befitting the song’s title, there is both fluidity here as well as a sensation that evokes the bubbling nature of a brook as it cascades over rocks. Brown infuses Gypsy Wind with just enough European flair that the inspiration from gypsy music is apparent but not overbearing.
Among the remaining six songs (one of which is the aforementioned “Stronger”), I was most impressed with the somewhat sorrowful Turning Tide, the romantic ballad, When You Smile and the closing track, Velvet Meadowswhich brings the album to a soft, warm, conclusion. Velvet Meadows may just be the best track here, or perhaps I am simply being seduced at its spot-on placement as the final song.
The Wishing Well will not set the musical on fire with startling originality and, while Brown displays ample talent on the piano, she doesn’t let loose with pyrotechnics in an attempt to dazzle the listener with her technique. The main draw for a solo piano CD such as The Wishing Well is its simplicity of mission, i.e. to entertain the listener with a series of piano melodies that are straightforward yet not strident or overbearing, with hints of minimalism to break up the pace now and then. Christine Brown’s music comes from her heart and you can hear it throughout the CD. You can easily see (or should I write “hear?”) why she mentions both Joe Bongiorno and David Nevue in the liner notes, as her music would fit comfortably bookended by both of those respected pianists.
– Bill Binkleman, 11/30/2012