Top10 finalist for original composition
By Kathy Parsons
Wayne Gratz has been one of my favorite pianist/composers since I discovered his music in the late 1980’s. Many years and about nineteen albums later, Gratz continues to produce some of the most peaceful and relaxing piano music out there. Safer Places is a collection of fourteen original piano solos and ensemble pieces that feature Nancy Rumbel on English horn and Paul Fleury on cello in addition to Gratz on piano and keyboards. Dedicated to Wayne’s parents, the cover of the CD refers to this as “piano ensemble music to enhance tranquility” - and that it is! I listened to it while on a long drive recently, and found that the music slipped into the background when I needed to give full attention to the road, but became a very pleasant traveling companion when I could focus on the music as the miles rolled by. Of course, it is best to savor the beauty of the music without distractions, as this is far from “fluff” music or ear candy, but it also provides a very warm and gentle backdrop for other activities.
Safer Places begins with “The Bridge to Ponce,” a graceful duet for piano and English horn plus keyboard enhancements. Warmth and contentment flow from the music, setting the mood for the rest of the album. “Supermoon” is much more atmospheric and ambient, this time featuring piano and cello. Its 7+ minute duration gives the magic plenty of time to soothe any stresses and cares away. “A Time For Reflection” is dreamy and meditative, and at eight minutes, allows the mind to wander in any direction it chooses while the soul relaxes and lets go. “Even With the Rain” is a favorite. A soulful duet for piano and cello, emotion is expressed with every note. I also really like “Views in the Candlelight,” a lovely piano solo with atmospheric keyboard accompaniment. Very ambient and still, it is easy to imagine soft, hazy images in flickering candlelight. “Life in Real Time” is a slow, spare piano solo that suggests the freedom of an improvisation - another favorite. “The Simple Life” is the most light-hearted track - a piano solo that conveys the joy in keeping things uncomplicated (not an easy thing to do!). “Skipping with the Fireflies” is another lengthy piece that soothes with a magical aural touch. Piano and keyboard create a calming mood of tranquility and peace with occasional accented notes that suggest the fireflies of the title. “Distant Light” is one of the more melodic and structured pieces on the album while remaining effortless and free. This gorgeous piano solo is my favorite track and I have my fingers crossed for sheet music! Gratz saved the title track for the last, and it’s a light and happy piano solo that brings this wonderful album to a close.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of Wayne Gratz’s music or a newbie, you will find much to love with Safer Places. Offering the best of both the ensemble and solo piano genres, this is one of Wayne’s best albums yet. It is available from www.WayneGratz.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!
by Stephen Cairnes
Anyone who might have thought that the sad demise of Narada would bring to an end the piano releases from Wayne Gratz need never have been concerned. The music has flowed from his magic fingers ever since, and arguably he has never been so creative.
It was with great pleasure that I heard of Wayne's latest independent release entitled 'Safer Places'. The bottom of the cover states, "Piano ensemble music to enhance tranquillity," and this is a very fair appraisal of the contents of the album. It is also a very personal recording.
Wayne's piano is accompanied by Nancy Rumbel's English horn on the opening track, 'The Bridge to Ponce'. I am guessing that Wayne has found solace in Puerto Rico, with Ponce known locally as the 'Pearl of the South'. What a delightful track with which to open the CD, with the two instruments complimenting each other so well.
Nature has often featured heavily in Wayne's recordings, and with a title like 'Supermoon', the influence of the world around him and beyond continues. A slightly mysterious opening awaits the listener, before the piano kicks in. Paul Fleury's heartfelt cello playing adds a note of melancholy to this piece, but the piano melody hints at optimism too. As the piece progresses, the more I feel this is a piece for reflection. I love it.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is 'Common Denominator'. A curious title, but a classic Gratz composition. This is more upbeat and playful, and gets my fingers dancing! Again, the cello features. An altogether lighter piece with a catchy melody, this is sure to have you whistling its tune for days to come. The tempo slows right down at the end, suggesting a shift in mood.
'A Time for Reflection' has a mournful opening. I know that around the time of the recording, Wayne suffered a family bereavement, and indeed the album features some very heart-felt words on the inside cover of the album: "This album is dedicated to my Mom and Dad, Jack & Wilda- Thank you for your inspiration, encouragement and support throughout my life. You will always be in my heart and my music. I could not have been in a better or safer place." I find this such a powerful track- beautiful music and many happy memories abound. The sadness returns at the end of the piece- it is indeed a time for reflection.
Another absolute favourite is 'Even with the Rain'. What a gorgeous melody. The relationship between piano and cello could never be more powerful than it is here. This is a stunning track- a masterpiece of a composition.
Changing the mood completely is 'Being Me', a much more uplifting piece and featuring another classic Gratz melody. Wayne's music has always been synonymous with memorable melodies and exquisite piano playing, and both of these attributes are to be found here.
The words in the linear notes set against a heavenly sky state either side of two church crosses, "Our truest source of inspiration comes from within. True contentment is awakened when we are inspired and encouraged to create with the gifts received from our 'safer places'". Wise words indeed, and the tranquil track 'A Wish is Calling' reflects this.
When I listen to the opening of the CD's eighth track, it conjures up images of a cathedral. One can almost hear the chanting from the choir at the opening of this piece. 'Views in the Candlelight' is yet another powerful track, much more subdued that some of the other music on the album. It tugs at the heart-strings.
'Life in Real Time' is another quiet, reflective piece- almost minimalist in style. The tempo slows right down. The listener can allow themself to drift away on their own little journey. Beauty exudes from the piece from start to finish.
'Angelica' shifts the mood from one of sombreness to one of happiness with its higher pitched notes. I have no idea who or what the title is referring to, but although gentle and almost lullaby-like, it holds its own extremely well and provides an emotional lift for the listener.
The tempo increases with 'The Simple Life', a light and happy piece- a typical track from the hands of this master.
I was expecting a similar but perhaps more frantic style with 'Skipping with the Fireflies'. However, the opening is very gentle and slightly mysterious. Even with the more prominent presence of the piano later on, this is an extremely calm and even soporific piece.
The penultimate track, 'Distant Light', returns the listener onto more familiar Gratz territory. The light may be distant, but the beauty of the music is carried through the air directly to the listener's discerning ears.
This outstanding album closes with the title track, 'Safer Places'. The CD ends on an optimistic note. This is a catchy, melodic piece that concludes the album perfectly.
Wayne Gratz's new release is of the highest quality. Consistently powerful from the opening bars to the closing notes, CDs do not come better than this. The composer has clearly experienced some dark moments in recent times, but out of this comes some breathtakingly beautiful music. Wayne Gratz has an indisputable gift for composing, and I would urge readers of this review to listen to it for themselves, and become immersed in some of the 'safer places' -both physical and metaphorical- that the composer captures so well in this album.
I give 'Safer Places' my highest recommendation. Bravo, Wayne.
Four Steps to the Ocean
By Michael Debbage
Back in its heyday, Wayne Gratz was one of the second wave artists of the pioneering label Narada Records and it has now been over 23 years since he released his debut album Reminiscence. Despite the years gone by, the pianist's music continues to be anchored in a conservative understated melody with minor embellishments that will slowly pull you under its spell. Unlike his prior release Two Views, while it is still Wayne going solo with no musician assistance, his whispery swirling keyboard string embellishments have gladly returned, lightly washing Four Steps To The Ocean in a sea of soft serenity.
The album opens with the elegant composition "A Silent Wind" which would have sat very nicely on his stellar debut Reminiscence. It softly lifts you off your feet into a glide mode, elevating you gently into the fluffy white clouds. Similar but slower results can be found on the unassuming majesty of "Afternoon Sails" as well as "All Calm On The Horizon". The murmuring string embellishments are also found on "Miles And Miles", "Ocean Air" and "My Back To The Beach". In between these gentle but memorable moments you may find the bare moments of nothing else but Gratz and his piano being even more vulnerable, best reflected by the almost improvisational feel of "Sea Renity".
It is doubtful that Wayne Gratz will ever present his listeners with an overwhelming epic album that will emotionally sweep you off your feet. That just doesn't seem to be his style. Nevertheless, his quiet unassuming musical character is still very capable of transporting you within Four Steps To The Ocean without even getting your feet wet nor sand between your toes, as you drift to a shifting twilight knowing all is calm on the horizon, taking you miles and miles away from all of your cares. Now that is a majestic moment.
The term ‘prolific’ would certainly seem to apply to multi-talented pianist Wayne Gratz, but the Seattle-based composer never sacrifices quality over quantity. Barely a year after the Piano-Heaven award-winning CD, ‘Light, Lands and Shoreline’ became available, Wayne has delivered the goods again with the release of his fifth independent CD- ‘Two Views’.
In the linear notes, Wayne explains that the title derives from the curious idea that in our younger days we look forward to the future and, at a certain point, that changes to looking back at the past. As Wayne himself says, "I often find myself pondering the two points of view."
It is the title track that opens the CD, and what a beautiful start to what amounts to a tremendous hour or so of music. Wayne's hopes for the future / reflections of the past are certainly positive, and this is a spirited piece from the heart.
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~ ~Stephen Cairns - Piano Heaven
I have been a big fan of Wayne Gratz’s music since his first release on Narada back in 1987, and I believe that his newest release, “Two Views,” is my favorite. All fifteen piano solos are soft-spoken and understated - a soulful pianist doing what he does best. The title refers to the idea that as children growing up, we spent a lot of time imagining what our lives would be like in the future, while as adults, we probably spend at least as much time looking back and reliving past experiences in our minds. With those themes in mind, some of the music has a light, childlike innocence and some is more pensive and reflective - all of it is soothing, graceful and beautiful!
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~ ~ Kathy Parsons -Mainly Piano
Light, Lands and Shoreline
by the popular paintings of Thomas Kinkade, Light
Lands and Shoreline’s 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.
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~~Bill Binkelman - New Age Reporter
Wayne Gratz has been one of my favorite pianists over the years, so it was with great excitement that I inserted his latest offering, the curiously titled "Light Lands and Shorelines" into my CD player. What followed was an hour of bliss, and I quickly remembered why I admired this musician so much...
Wayne's new work was specially commissioned to provide the accompanying soundtrack for the paintings of Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light”. Kinkade is apparently America's most collected living artist, and a visit to his site shows that he is indeed a very talented painter. It is little wonder then, that these two masters of their trade should end up working together, and the end result is a match made in heaven.
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~ ~Stephen Cairns - Piano Heaven
Place Without Noise
An affecting pianist-composer long deserving of broader recognition, Wayne Gratz continues to specialize in stately, reflective expressions of the soul... A Place Without Noise is, as the title suggests, a solid choice to augment your quiet moments.
~ ~ Terry Wood (Amazon.com Editorial Reviews)
he's done the last 3 CD's, this one is perfect! Beautiful
and warm all over, this is a perfect CD for a crazy
~ ~ Eric Brown - Woodland Hills, CA
Gratz has always been a master of understated piano
compositions, and "A Place Without Noise",
his seventh collection of original piano solos for Narada,
is perhaps his most peaceful and introspective album
yet...Very highly recommended!
~ ~ Kathy Parsons - Mainly Piano
of the compositions on A PLACE WITHOUT NOISE are designed
to soothe and settle, rather than stir... His understated
playing and instantly memorable melodies are easy on
the ear and the soul. You need at least one of his discs.
~ ~ Joe Hartlaub - music-reviewer.com