Review of Solo Piano II Album by Chilly Gonzales

It may come as something of a surprise from someone perhaps better known as a hip-hop/rap producing electronic artist, but Solo Piano II does as it says on the tin; it's Chilly Gonzales' second collection of solo piano offerings. 2004's Solo Piano in fact remains his best-selling album to date, so why not come back with more?! Solo Piano II, written and performed entirely by Gonzales who began to teach himself piano at the age of three before going on to classically train at university, opens with 'White Keys'; an entrancing composition with an undulating left hand part throughout. The piece works its way through the range of the piano offering varying levels of drama throughout the way; there's intensity in the lower sections, while higher sections offer much more of a gentle relief. 'Kenaston', on the other hand, sounds like a piece for a summer's day stroll with its jazzy twinges and easy going, laid back feeling with a delicate melody throughout. There's a change of guise again, however, with 'Minor Fantasy' which, as its title may suggest, offers a more sombre feel; a sombre waltz that lurches through uneasy tonality into a brief glimpse of hope and then back to the anxious melancholy of its opening, then drawing to a low and downhearted conclusion. Solo Piano II is obviously fuelled by Gonzales' classical training throughout and nods, in some places more than others, to many a name from the history of music; the likes of Eric Satie, for example. 'Escher' is one of the more traditional classical style keyboard compositions on the album, with its busy left hand accompaniment to right hand melody throughout. Again, Chilly Gonzales effortlessly explores much of the piano's expansive range. 'Nero's Nocturne' has a steady 6 feel established in the steady rhythmic left hand part which accompanies a folk-like melody. Gonzales' compositions may well have grown out of improvisations but they've progressed much further than meandering explorations into well-structured pieces in their own right. Much of this collection sounds thoughtful and is expressive at least dynamically, though more metronomic and mechanical in terms of tempo. The solo piano nature of this album brings to mind the likes of Ludovico Einaudi, but where Einaudi's compositions are largely a kind of progressive minimalism, those of Chilly Gonzales are more traditional and nod to more of a traditional classical style; evenly structured with clear tonality as well as distinct melody and accompaniment. 'Train Of Thought' is a brief exception to this; it grows from low-pitched undulating broken chords which gradually evolve into a more expansive range. The steady development of melody through harmony definitely nods to Einaudi, minimalism and film music. That said, however, Solo Piano II is like a 'classical' suite of compositions but each with the duration of a more popular, mainstream track. Calm, steady-paced compositions ('La Bulle') alongside more playful melodies ('Othello') and contrasting, faster-paced, more on-edge interjections ('Evolving Doors'), Solo Piano II may take people by surprise, but pleasantly so. Hannah Spencer

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