Triple threat—composer, vocalist, pianist—musician Tony DeSare’s latest album, PiANO, adds a fourth threat, sonic experimentalist. As he explains on the album’s back cover, “PiANO is the result of over two years of experimentation and recording” on his Yamaha acoustic. “Every sound you hear on this album (other than my own voice) originated from somewhere in, on, or under the piano.” So for example, the kettle drum sound on one track was produced by setting one mic on the soundboard and a second under the keyset. DeSare then used a closed fist to strike under the keyset while holding down the sustain pedal. He describes how he got guitar and bass sounds as well.
Worth the effort? Well, it does give the artist complete control over process, and at the very least that assures that the end product realizes his vision. On the other hand, there is a price in the loss of spontaneity that puts too much emphasis on a kind of technical perfection. Dwelling too much on the mechanics may drain the emotion from the music.
More often than not, DeSare avoids falling into this trap. His vocals combine some of the best elements of pop, jazz, and cabaret. His piano work is dynamic. His original tunes are witty and charmingly melodic. His covers, both of classics and contemporary pieces, put his own spin on them while managing to keep to their original spirit.
Of the album’s 11 songs, five are covers and six are originals. Contemporary tunes include what he calls his attempt to “capture the intimacy” of Journey’s “Faithfully,” and a rhythmically inventive reading of “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
From the Great American Songbook, he does an instrumental version of the hoary “Autumn Leaves” that may make some of us forget the Roger Williams pop hit with it back in 1955. It is a jazzy version that develops the song without any of the pomposity of the Williams version. He adds a bonus medley of Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” with a little of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
His swinging nod to Cole Porter’s “Just One of those Things” makes a nice comment on his own salute to the lyricist, implicit in “Chemistry.” As you listen, you can’t help but hear the patented Porter wit in your imagination. DeSare’s “New Orleans Tango” combines the tango rhythms with a bit of blues. “A Lot to Say,” which opens the album, is a rocker and “Nothing Left to Say,” which would cleverly bookend the album were it not for the bonus track, is a catchy, syncopated toe-tapper.
Worth the effort? If you can come up with an album like PiANO, you bet your life it is.