Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano:
"Beautiful music and playing! Not only is Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano quite an achievement, but it’s also a great and valuable addition to the piano literature.”
-Andy LaVerne (legendary jazz pianist, composer and author)
“Composer Eric Starr recently released Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano, a gorgeous recording of his music as played by pianist Michelle Alvarado. Inspired by the genius of Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Satie, and Bill Evans, the dozen reflective, romantic, and wistful works show Starr and Alvarado to be the perfect pairing of creator and interpreter.”
-Peter Aaron, Chronogram
“Listening to these pieces in person recently invited the best kind of closing one's eyes, succumbing to the mind's dozy story-spinning, then being drawn out of reveries back into focused listening in appreciation of structure, space, occasional merriment, and formality. Happily, hearing it outside of the concert hall [on CD] evokes all of these things again...I love it.”
-Alison Rooney, The Highlands Current
Chronogram August 2019 issue:
The jazz drummer and composer Eric Starr has long favored the "chamber" side of jazz—modernist harmony, contrapuntal ensemble arrangements, and through-composed forms as opposed to the head-solo-solo default of pickup jazz or the spontaneous design of the "free" school. On 2018's Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano, Starr makes it official. This serious composer's gambit has been hailed as a "valuable addition to the piano literature" by Andy LaVerne, a jazz legend who also treads that line between jazz and serious chamber music, along with Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch, Dan Tepfer, and so many of jazz piano's current giants. Performed with lucid elegance by Michelle Alvarado, Starr's compositions identify with the French Impressionistic tradition in their harmonic colors, their movement agile but not driven by resolutions. In their unpredictable thematic development, they bristle with invention and mischief. And—this is significant—none of it swings much. Whether the serious repertoire will recognize this bid, as LaVerne suggested it might, remains to be seen, but there is no doubt about the substance and elaborate design of this music.
On Eric Starr's Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano
Iconic drummer and composer Bill Bruford has described creativity as "a process that brings experience into meaning."
Bruford might well have been speaking of fellow drummer and composer Eric Starr. Starr’s latest venture—in a career that has seen him man the tubs for a progressive alternative rock band; lead his own jazz ensemble; pen poetry, plays, and pedagogic texts; and work as a music educator—finds him bringing all of that experience into meaning.
With Twelve Pieces for Solo Piano, the sheer diversity of Starr's experience is explored, celebrated, and lamented with equal—and often brutal—honesty.
These Twelve Pieces, which function fully as separate vignettes, are transportative when digested in one sitting. Like Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, the listener is taken on an epic journey through Starr's composing—they embark on a full-sailed adventure, are lured by the sweet song of the sirens only to be dashed upon the rocks of reality, and then finally freed to set off toward a twilight of reconciliation. Which is to suggest that the music takes us somewhere, though we're never asked to leave our seat.
Inspired by the rich pallet of the French impressionist composers, the lyricism of jazz giant Bill Evans, the heart-rending romanticism of Mahler and Rachmaninoff, and the occasional strum und drang associated with rock rhythms, Starr refuses to hedge his bets with these Twelve Pieces. The composer welcomes us into a world that acknowledges heartbreak as much as it celebrates beauty and joy. The result is deeply moving, thoroughly modern music that nonetheless honors what preceded it.
To fully explore the nuances, subtleties, and dramatic arc of Starr's Twelve Pieces, a pianist of considerable merit is necessary. In Michelle Alvarado, Starr has secured just such a musician. During the recent world premiere of Twelve Pieces, at the storied Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY, Alvarado moved from the delicate to the primal and the sublimely melodic to the cacophonous with finesse and grace.
Music Critic, The Buffalo News
Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano
Eric Starr is certainly a multi-talented musician. His excellent 2013 CD Such is Life featured him playing modern jazz as part of a sextet augmented by a string ensemble; Starr performed on drums, vibraphone and keyboards. Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano is quite a bit different for it showcases him as a classical composer.
Starr, who has received numerous grants as a composer (in addition to writing five books on music) enlisted the services of the versatile classical pianist Michelle Alvarado to perform his Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano. She gave the works their world premiere at the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo and will be performing the pieces later this year at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. In addition to being a virtuoso who can handle any piece of written music, Alvarado infuses each of Starr’s pieces with the emotional sensitivity that they deserve.
The performance begins with “The Bell Tower” which utilizes high notes on the piano to emulate the sound of a bell. The picturesque piece also has lower-register virtuosic runs that accentuate the haunting mood.
“Waltz No. 1” is a pretty if melancholy composition that becomes moodier as it progresses. “La Boîte à Musique” hints at Duke Ellington in some of the chord voicings and is quite episodic, containing many brief themes. “Memories of Olive” is a wistful performance that has both cheerful and downbeat moments. In contrast, “Ecossaise” (which hints at George Gershwin at first) is a playful number built off of a three-note run.
“Prelude No. 1 (La Nuit)” and “Prelude No. 2 (L’Aube)” are both slow and thoughtful, featuring both beautiful chords and a few dramatic moments. “The Piano Tuner” starts with one repeated note, as if the pianist is tuning the piano, before utilizing repetition effectively in its theme, eventually fading out with a repeated note. The brief “Prelude No. 3 (Tout Seul)” consists of some sophisticated chords played at a low volume. The light-hearted “Ballade” is a waltz that concludes with a hint of the opening of “Rhapsody In Blue.” “Prelude No. 4 (Le Clown)” is filled with unexpected melodic outbursts while the final piece, “Elegy (For MB),” is an introspective and quietly emotional ballad.
While Starr’s impressionistic music is entirely written-out, it utilizes some of the harmonic language and spontaneous feeling of jazz. Twelve Pieces For Solo Piano is thought-provoking music that will intrigue and delight a large audience.
jazz journalist/historian and author of Jazz On Record 1917-76
Quotes about Eric Starr Group Albums She and Such is Life:
"There are too few composer-drummers, and on this evidence, Eric Starr is an extremely welcome new addition to the club. His musicianly writing and playing do him great credit. Plus, he has an ex-Earthworker - Iain Ballamy - on tenor saxophone. Irresistible."
-Bill Bruford, Iconic Drummer
"Such Is Life is most impressive. One of my favourite releases of the year."
-Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz
"One cannot help but be impressed by this music. The musicianship is top-notch, the performances unpredictable and full of surprises, and Eric Starr's writing is consistently inventive." -Scott Yanow, Jazz Critic/Author
"Eric Starr shows formidable taste and class throughout this multi-dimensional release...Panoramic, dramatic and exciting, these tunes highlight an exciting direction for the band, and for jazz in general." -Jazz Weekly
"Everything is fresh about this disc…Nothing gets in the way of this music's freshness and charm." -Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
"A multi-talented musician, Eric Starr's jazz star may well be rising above all expectations and Such Is Life may be the reason why. Starr and ESG deliver an exceptional album: a gem of a recording that truly sparkles all over. Brother Nelson and the well-designed orchestrations play a major role here and one sample of this session will be enough to convince anyone."
-Edward Blanco, All About Jazz
"From commotion to lost and frustrated love, Such Is Life presents an anthem from the theatre of life through the thoughtful lens of Western New York drummer Eric Starr...An album of Starr’s originals, the diversity in arrangements, feel and flavour, coalesces into the ‘life’ concept with beauty and precision in a laid back, late night New York soundscape." -Peter Wockner, Jazz & Beyond
“Starr has the arranging chops to carry off an album of exquisite, wide-ranging chamber jazz...and the range and resolution of his imagination is truly stunning.” -Chronogram Magazine
"Starr proves himself an accomplished composer…that would have made Antonio Carlos Jobim proud." -Muze, Inc.
Such Is Life (2013) * * * 1/2 - Downbeat Magazine * * * * Jazz Journal, UK