Nicholas Chase: Voluptuous: Works for Solo Piano

Nicholas Chase's liner notes for Voluptuous: Works for Solo Piano thoroughly enhance one's appreciation for the project. By his own admission, the composer doesn't claim to be proficient on any of the instruments he's studied; despite that, he's been performing piano recitals on two continents since 2008. It was a concert performance in the Czech Republic before an intimidating audience of piano virtuosi that prompted him to rethink his idea of virtuosity, however. In place of the conventional idea of music created to showcase a pianist's technical prowess, Chase decided to compose to a performer's unique strengths, some of which even might not be related to the instrument in question.

Guided by that mindset, Chase, who formally studied with Morton Subotnick, James Tenney, and Pauline Oliveros, among others, composed the piano pieces on the present recording with his own abilities in mind, and consequently they reflect harmonically his connections to jazz and blues and are organized organically to his “internal ear.” The works are heavily influenced by mind/body practices connected to yoga, which has been a key part of Chase's life since 2007, and both yoga and North Indian classical raga figure into the timing, duration, and execution of the material.

Conventional time signatures are suspended, and rhythmic emphasis is determined by breath, something especially audible in the eighteen-minute “Voluptuous” (2012), which integrates electronic fields and computer signal processing with live piano and where breath-guided phrasing grows more pronounced as the piece unfolds. Improvisation is also central to Chase's current practice, as exemplified by the four-part “Songs of the Thirsty Sword” (2008), where the pianist is instructed to play “softly,” “patiently,” “gently,” and “freely” and integrate large amounts of silence into the performance.

Chase characterizes the form of “Voluptuous” as “a structure in motion, dynamically changing and evolving.” Electroacoustic in nature, the piece patiently unfolds as a tightly controlled dialogue between the piano and electronic textures, with long pauses sometimes separating one note from the next and ghostly reverberations audible in the spaces between them. Chase's claim that his material, which might appear to be simple, is in fact “complex in unexpected ways” is supported by his carefully executed rendering of the piece. If anything, “Songs of the Thirsty Sword” exploits the principles of space and silence even more than “Voluptuous,” and the generous pauses separating the notes allow the piano ample opportunities to resonate. That's particularly noticeable when the music is at its most delicate, such as during “Songs of the Thirsty Sword: Song 1,” and when the pauses are especially pronounced, as occurs within the subsequent three “songs.”

December 2014