Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Jan Gunnar Hoff's Stories from 2L Recordings
I'm at the tail end of my first Syracuse winter, and I seem to have survived. According to the locals, it's been a pretty average season--well over 100 inches of snowfall so far, but certainly not all clumped together at once. Other than slipping on the ice four times in one week right before the holidays, I appear to be strong enough to handle northern life.
Today, however, we are expecting a big snowstorm. It's the middle of March, and we're still not out of the woods yet. The first piece of music I'm playing today is Jan Gunnar Hoff's Stories, another exquisite recording from 2L Recordings in Norway. I've played this disc several times over the last few weeks--it's the perfect soundtrack for watching the snowfall through a big window. These fifteen pieces for solo piano are all songs in the strictest sense of the word--they range from two to five minutes long, and they have specific song structures. Most importantly, they all tell a story.
Jan Gunnar Hoff is a familiar face to anyone who has been purchasing Blu-ray discs, CD/SACD hybrids and even LPs from 2L. I've already reviewed several of his releases right here on this blog: Living was reviewed in 2013, and the Hoff Ensemble's Quiet Winter Night is one of my favorite LPs to demo at a trade show. As a solo pianist, Hoff is one of those inventive performers who can sit in front of a keyboard and improvise endlessly. His style is fluid and lyrical, but at the same time he can connect to a wide range of emotions--it certainly isn't just pretty piano music he's playing. There's bite and there's thunder.
In Stories, however, Hoff does an amazing thing. Those beautiful improvisations are blended with familiar songs, familiar passages, even fleeting moments. Aside from a glorious and thoughtful cover of "God Only Knows," a rearrangement of the traditional Norwegian folk song "Varmlandsvisan" and Gerhard Winkler's "Answer Me," these are all original compositions from Hoff, so those gentle moments of recognition are wonderfully ethereal. At various points through Stories I'm reminded of everything from Thomas Dolby to Alan Silvestri's original score from Cast Away. These are incidental, however--the moment I lock in with a flash of realization, Hoff has moved onto something else.
This wavering between pure improvisation and surreptitious homage make Stories one of the most rewarding solo piano works I've heard in some time. By now you know that 2L Recordings are perhaps the most lifelike and natural you can buy in 2017, so I don't need to tell you how warm and spacious the Sofienberg Church sounds, or how producer Morten Lindberg has a better handle on how to bring out the wood and the wire of a piano out into the open better than anyone else.
Just grab this recording and wait for a snowy day, like today, and stare out the window and think about everything that matters to you.