Release Date:
December 2008

Reviewed by:
Anne Aufderheide

The new music from gifted pianist and composer, Lao Tizer, on his own Yse Records, is presented in an intimate setting of solo Yamaha grand piano most tenderly backed by small ensemble.  Here’s a really good example of “less is more.”  Passages shines the spot light on Tizer in this showcase of his exquisitely crafted compositions and evocative piano prowess, most passionately performed with lush sonic qualities.  This is primarily a solo piano recording of contemporary new music, influenced by jazz, classical, and new age sensibilities, with a immensely talented backing band.

On his page, Tizer cites some of his musical influences, among them are Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.  One can clearly hear their influence in his musical works especially on this new CD Passages.  Twelve original compositions (one co-written with Jeff Kollman) are solo piano performances in an improvisational style. Along with Lyle Mays, I am reminded of the classical side of David Benoit and Keiko Matsui, a touch of Bruce Hornsby, and the styles of great contemporary instrumental pianists David Lanz, George Winston, Wayne Gratz, Michael Whalen, and Michael Gettel.

The album was conceived by Executive Producer Albert Wong who approached Tizer about recording a project that would capture his purest voice as a pianist and composer with modest accompaniment and production.  They recorded live in the studio.  The resulting CD Passages was finished with almost no editing. Five of the tracks are produced by Tizer’s mentor, Chieli Minucci of Special EFX fame, six are produced by compadre and band mate, Jeff Kollman, and one is produced by Carl McGregor and Chieli Minucci.  The record features many guest appearances including the outstanding violinist extraordinaire and frequent performance partner Karen Briggs, Kevin Ricard (percussion), Philip Hamilton (percussion and vocals), Kollman and Minucci on guitar, and others mentioned below.  Two selections feature a live string quartet, arranged by New York based violinist Antoine Silverman. Knowing all this, it’s no wonder the album has such a gorgeous, natural sound.    

As a composer and arranger, he certainly shows off his chops here.  His evolving skill as a composer has reached new heights. This ability to create heart-touching melodies, either for solo piano or for small ensembles, gives his music its distinctive feel.  

“To Touch The Sky” opens the CD with adventurous harmonies, lilting melodies, and expansive sonic vistas.  Tizer is backed by Philip Hamilton on percussion and vocals and by Chieli Minucci on synth and guitars.  Of all the tracks, this one pays homage to Metheny and Mays.  With Hamilton’s sultry, soaring volcalese and graceful percussion and Minucci’s amazing guitar solos, Tizer’s robust performance is rendered with passion and finesse.

The title track “Passages” is a very beautiful, live ensemble performance with string arrangements by Antoine Silverman and programming by Minucci.  Joining Silverman on violin is Entcho Todorov, on viola is Michael Roth, on cello Anja Wood, and Scott Lee on upright bass.  Tizer’s composition is most eloquent and his performance is bright and tender.   As the song builds, there is exquisite interplay between string instruments and piano in grand, soaring passages.

“Imaginarium” is perhaps inspired by the children’s museum on the island Kauai.  Tizer and Band with Karen Briggs performed there at a two-night-event benefit concert in 2008.  This upbeat recording shows Tizer on both piano and synth in a lively composition.  He is accompanied by Jeff Kollman on electric guitar and bass.  Jono Brown contributed the programming, so tastefully done.

With Tizer on piano and synth and Kollman on electric guitars, “Remembrance” is an exceptional work of Tizer’s poetically expressive piano style.

With its delicious Latin flavor, the fiery “Corazon Del Fuego” is perhaps my favorite track on the album.   Karen Briggs carries the melody on violin.  Kollman plays flamenco style on nylon guitars adding to the Latin feel.  Kevin Ricard plays expressive percussion. Tizer’s piano perfectly complements the ensemble as each artist performs spicy solos.

We get to catch our breath on “Embrace,” an ardent, romantic solo piano piece performed with such clarity and purity by Tizer.

Tizer and the live string ensemble is now joined by Minucci on nylon guitar in “Re-enactment.”  Tizer’s composition of sweeping grandeur could easily be found in a cinematic score. His expressive touch at the keyboard is inspired.

Once again we are treated to a solo piano masterpiece, “Reflections.”  Tizer’s performance is full of passion like in his live concerts. Minucci fills out the track with the most delicate and tasteful of pads.  There is a phenomenal string solo near the middle of the piece.  It is so compelling, I stopped what I was doing, started the track over, to listen fully and completely.

“Mahogany” has an alluring, lilting yet plaintive melody performed by Tizer and backed by Hamilton (percussion,) McGregor (on synth, drum and bass programming, who co-produced the track) and Minucci (acoustic guitars and programming, with co-producing credit.)

In this nearly 7 minute track, “Paso Doblê” opens with Tizer’s solo piano in a delicate melody. Ricard accents this intriguing song with just the right subtlety in his percussion accents.  The song builds throughout becoming an interesting track, driven by a spirited piano performance.

Kollman on acoustic guitar joins Tizer on “Meadows,” which they co-wrote.  It is simply beautiful… as refreshing as a breezy summer’s day.

Closing the album with “Golden Soul,” it is sometimes romantic and peaceful, and at other times, it’s full of life and vigor.  Hand tapped drums add a driving, infectious rhythm as the song builds to its glorious conclusion, leaving us energized and refreshed.

Layered with beautiful, simple melodies, gentle phrasing, lovingly-crafted melodies, intimate piano solos, and the warm sounds of guitar, Passages is contemporary new impressionism in a beguiling instrumental blend of piano, acoustic and electric guitars, cello, percussion, upright bass, viola, and violin.  It is music that stimulates the mind, speaks to the soul, and reinforces the spirit with its unrelenting, uplifting, and affirming qualities. I invite you to experience the varying moods in this moving new project from Lao Tizer, one of today’s most intriguing instrumentalists.