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Heavy as a Feather
By Kathryn Kaye
Label: Final Notes
Released 12/1/2011
Heavy as a Feather tracks
1. Mountain Laurel
2. Meadow Morning
3. An Empty Street in Prague
4. Wind in the Tall Autumn Grass
5. So Much Sky
6. Earth
7. Summer Afternoon
8. How Deep, How Simple
9. Dusk at Rockhouse Creek
10. Heavy as a Feather
11. One Last Quiet Breath
Heavy as a Feather
Kathryn Kaye's sophomore effort, Heavy as a Feather, trumps the already considerable accomplishment of her debut, Dreaming Still. The CD delves even deeper into Kaye's evocative, restrained, yet strongly melodic piano-driven instrumentals. This is a very strong follow-up and bodes an even brighter future for this talented relative newcomer than her freshman effort promised.

Once more working with ace producer Will Ackerman and featuring a smattering of top musical accompanists (Jill Haley on English horn, Tony Levin on bass, Michael Manring on fretless bass, Eugene Friesen on cello, Charlie Bisharat on violin, among others), Kaye puts her nuanced playing front and center on eleven graceful, elegant, sepia-toned soundscapes, while the guest artists contribute their considerable talents on seven of the selections.

Lately, it seems like a lot of pianists are trying to infuse more drama, power, and vibrancy into their music, a movement which, frankly, I don't like. That's why the overall soft, gentle mood which permeates Heavy as a Feather impresses me so much. Kaye remains true to her vision, allowing her piano melodies to tell their tales with abundant heart but also with subtlety.

Starting off with the nostalgic solo piano track, Mountain Laurel, Kaye immediately displays her deft control of tone, as the music unfurls slowly with unforced naturalness and nary a trace of pointless rambling. The mood is warm, like sunlight streaming through a window. Meadow Morning has the artist joined by Friesen, Haley, Levin and percussionist Ramesh Kannan, but the presence of all these players doesn't derail the pensive mood of the piece, which tugs sincerely at the heartstrings when Friesen's cello enters the picture, likewise with Haley's English horn which seems to caress the piano melody lovingly as if comforting it. Even more sedate is the next track, An Empty Street in Prague, on which Kaye infuses her piano playing with some subtle Eastern European motifs. Here she is joined by veteran violinist Bisharat as well as Tom Eaton on accordion. The desolation and solitude that the piece evokes captures the title reference perfectly. One can almost picture a person walking forlornly through a misty fog, deep in reverie. Bisharat's violin adds another Balkan-esque element (I must confess I didn't hear any trace of Eaton's accordion in the track, though, so it must be subtle and deep in the mix).

Other memorable selections (although, to be honest, the entire CD is great with no "filler" whatsoever) include the short solo piano tone poem, So Much Sky, the rural Americana feel of the seven-minute long Earth, the surprisingly mournful Summer Afternoon, the highly impressionistic solo piece Dusk at Rockhouse Creek, and the near Zen-like sparseness of the closing solo number, One Last Quiet Breath.

Obviously, from my descriptions above, you should glean that Heavy as a Feather is an ideal late night listen, perfect for unwinding after a stressful day or as accompaniment to reading. The softness of the music requires a quiet environment (or headphones) to fully appreciate the nuances of Kaye's playing, as well as the performances of the other artists present on the disc. Corin Nelsen's mastering is flawless and Ackerman's production is its usual textbook self. The impressionist cover art (credited to A. Handelman) fits the mood of the album well, too.

Kathryn Kaye is well on her way to establishing herself as one of the best of the current crop of pianists. Her compositions convey emotions effortlessly with no trace of "in your face" theatrics. She clearly understands that less is more when it comes to number of notes as well as allowing the simple flow of the melody to speak softly. Heavy as a Feather should be in every piano music lover's collection.
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 3/23/2012
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