Following a couple of years where, uncharacteristically, he's released but a single recording, pianist Marc Copland returns to his usual, prolific self with Alone
, his third 2009 album following the conclusion to his New York Trio Recordings
trilogy, Vol. 3: Night Whispers
, and Insight
, his dark, intimate duet record with bassist Gary Peacock
. Like the other two, Alone
is also on the German Pirouet label, and the fact that Copland has parked his car permanently at Pirouet headquarters is no small endorsement, having recorded previously for other prestigious indie labels include Switzerland's Hatology, Germany's now-defunct Nagel-Heyer, and France's also sadly gone Sketch. It's also a well-deserved endorsement of Pirouet's commitment to Copland that the label is prepared to go the distance and release multiple discs in a single year.
Copland's last solo piano disc, the marvelous Time Within Time (Hatology, 2005) was one of the year's best. It may be a late entry for the year, but in the arena of solo piano, Alone is an equal contender. Copland evolves gradually rather than breaking significant new ground with each record, and the development between Poetic Motion (Sketch, 2001) and Time can also be found in the four years that have ensued since Time. Terms like "impressionistic," "dark," "intimate," and "abstract" are all good ones to describe Copland's distinctive approach to whatever music he turns his hand to, but while his last two solo discs focused on original music and standards, the similarly configured Alone expands the repertoire by providing a very specific and unique focus on three Joni Mitchell tunes.
Mitchell's inventive open tunings for guitar have provided grist for jazz interpretations in the past, notably Herbie Hancock's Grammy-winning River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007). But here, Copland draws from more obscure titles in Mitchell's early repertoire: "I Don't Know Where I Stand," from Clouds (Reprise, 1969), "Rainy Night House," from Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise, 1970, and "Michael from the Mountain," from Song to a Seagull (Reprise, 1968). What's, perhaps, most important is that these all come from before Mitchell began to dabble more explicitly in sophisticated jazz harmonies. Written more directly, that means Copland actually has more interpretive latitude, and he takes great advantage; the beauty of a Copland solo piano recital is that, while the non-original material is inevitably recognizable, his personal approach to reharmonization makes it sound very much as though he'd written it in the first place.
Copland's original material continues to demonstrate a equally personal and oblique approach the blues ("Blackboard"), while expanding Night Whispers' title track into an 11-minute, indigo-shaded tour-de-force where everything the trio delivered explicitly becomes implicit, suggested. A newer tune, "Into the Silence," revolves around a 7/4 ostinato; another brooding piece where Copland's ability to paint vivid images in sound remains intact.
He may be better-known in Europe, but Copland is one of America's too well-kept secrets. Those who've not yet been charmed by his inward-looking pianism couldn't start at a better place than the aptly titled Alone.