It’s a very special opportunity for me to write this review on Jennifer Thomas’s latest release - 10th anniversary edition of her very first album. I got to know Jennifer few years ago when I read her blog post about her music career becoming a family effort and her main focus. Among other things she wrote about the parenthood and the related challenges to find time to practice piano and compose in between the exhausting days and nights. The original “Key of Sea” album happened just before that period in Jennifer’s life and this story truly resonated with me. So does this special edition of the same album, fully remastered with four bonus tracks.
The album starts with “A Beautiful Storm” - a perfect track to grab the attention from the very beginning. According to Jennifer, it was inspired by Piano Concerto No 2 by Edward MacDowell and the parallel can definitely be heard in how the track starts. However, Jennifer quickly takes it from the classical into the cinematic direction. I heard the reminiscence of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata “The Storm” - they share the same key, the structure and the same changes in tempo, it has its own life – turbulent and dramatic as a storm. Strangely, it also felt like a conversation between Rachmaninoff and Vivaldi. I got a special connection to this piece as I performed it myself and what a challenging and cathartic experience it was!
“Prelude In F” is taking the listener into more of an impressionistic mood, touching some modern harmonies. I loved the unexpected Debussy-like changes of chords and dancing triple rhythm. It’s light and romantic, yet with longing parts. The following “Release” is full of surprises: starting as a neoclassical piano in a free tempo, all of a sudden switching to a hypnotizing Hip-Hop groove, nicely supported by an orchestra. Then, as the name suggests, the track is turning into a soaring yet dramatic “release” and back to the groovy beat.
“You By My Side” has such a clear song structure with a beautiful memorable melody and a subtle orchestra supporting the piano. Jennifer’s performance reminded me a bit of Richard Clayderman – the same gentle and intimate touch, a very personal song. “Suite Dreams” was inspired by Bach and I can definitely hear the influence. Yet, I also recognize Jennifer’s personal style, her own voicing on top of all the multiple melody lines. The violin lines (played by Carolyn Southworth, Jennifer’s mother) are simply incredible. “Will’s Song” is about a constant movement in harmony and then also in tempo. It was written by Jennifer for her husband after they got engaged and the inspiration for this piece is clearly coming across – you can hear the quiet retreat, the drama, the passion, the conquering and a marathon – both figuratively and literally as Will is a long-distance runner and those running motifs are a distinct part of this piece.
“Old movie romance” starts pensive, even dark at times, reflecting some “film noir” feel. As the track progresses it brightens up and ends up on a heartwarming note. The following “Pure” has a waltzing rhythm and Chopin-like harmonies, which are moving in unexpected directions. “The Red Aspens” tells a personal story with quite a surprising dramatic culmination and a hypnotic finale, sounding like a chiming clock. The “Tempest” is a pure cinematic tension and suspense – it’s thrilling, it’s dramatic and driving in.
Being a wonderful composer in her own right, Jennifer is also an amazing arranger, choosing known pieces and making them her own in her own distinct style. What I found incredible is how clever Jennifer injects short “quotes” from other famous composers making them an organic part of her arrangements and compositions. Such an example of Jennifer’s arrangement is the 10th track of the album - “Somewhere”, composed by Leonard Bernstein.
This album is a versatile fusion of both grandeur drama and a very personal minimalism, organically co-existing with each other. It’s a true pearl of a creation, highly recommended!