Light Lands and Shoreline

Wayne Gratz Music (2008)

Pianist Wayne Gratz helped the Narada label achieve its immense popularity in the late Ď80s with the release of albums like Reminiscence and Panorama. In the years afterwards, he developed one of the more identifiable styles in the new age/adult contemporary instrumental piano genre. There is something that just "sounds right" in his music, a quality I first heard in 1993 when I purchased Follow Me Home (my introduction to his music). That album was followed by 1995ís Blue Ridge and 1996ís A Gift of the Sea yielding what may be the finest three consecutive recordings ever released by any piano player in this genre. Gratz then released a series of cover tune albums in the late Ď90s and I admit to losing track of him sometime around Island Sanctuary (which marked a return to original compositions) in 1999. He left Narada in 2002 and launched his own label and this is the first CD from "Wayne Gratz Music" that Iíve heard. My assessment? Light Lands and Shoreline easily stands alongside the best offerings from this talented artistís past catalogue.

Inspired by the popular paintings of Thomas Kinkade, Light Lands and Shorelineís fifteen tracks feature a mixture of solo piano pieces and songs on which Gratz displays his usual considerable skill in applying tasteful electronic textures and accompaniments. Just as his piano playing is uniquely characteristic, so are the subtle synthesized tones and instrumentation he adds on selected pieces. Whenever he layers in an embellishment to the piano, it always adds to and never detracts from a songís appeal. He has a great ear for knowing not just "When" but "How much" as well.

If youíve never heard a Wayne Gratz album, his overall playing/composing style is melodic and flowing, usually featuring refrains but never in an overly structured pop music style, more in how the refrains reemerge to anchor a piece in familiarity between bouts of delicate soloing or tone poem-esque minimalism. While he seldom revs things up on this release, he can get quite lively (witness certain songs on Follow Me Home and Blue Ridge). On this CD, his songs tend to balance a shaded form of gentle somberness with undeniable warmth and friendliness and occasional ripples of cheer and sprightliness. Since Kinkadeís paintings served as the creative impetus behind Light Lands and Shoreline (and if youíve seen any of the manís paintings), you can rightfully expect that the album will fall on the softer introspective side of Gratzís continuum (Kinkadeís artwork is suffused with softness, warmth, and a glowing sensation of light).

All the track titles on the album are picturesque, enabling the listener to paint his/her own visual images as the music pours out of the speakers.

"The Windowís Glow" opens the CD and a nostalgic seafaring influence is heard as sparse notes glide over a subtle application of synth string washes and textures. While more minimal in structure, the piece is still unmistakably cast in the Gratz mold. "Native American Winter" is somewhat spirited but carries a hint of sadness amidst the notes. "Cottage by the Sea" has one of the albumís more delicately pretty refrains with an almost lighter-than-air dancing quality to it. "Houses by the Water" showcases another of Gratzís "patented" keyboard textures, a sort of soothing whooshing choral sound which adds a haunting quality to the romantic nature of the main melody. Reminding me of Follow Me Home, "Colors of Autumn" has another keyboard effect which is hard to describe but fleshes out the reflective piano piece perfectly, giving it a twinkling atmosphere of sorts.

I wish I had more space to detail the rest of the songs on Light Lands and Shoreline, but suffice it to say I love this album and can only add that I heartily give it my highest recommendation to not just fans of this immensely gifted artist but also to those for whom discovering Wayne Gratzís many talents will be an all-new pleasure.

Rating: Excellent

Bill Binkelman
New Age Reporter