Album Review: Jakob Uhlig “Stories”

JakobUJakob Uhlig is a 18 year old piano player from Hamburg Germany. His composition and playing style are far and above his young age. By being a part of The Piano Cloud, Jakob has been able to grow and mature his skills and this project is a culmination of not only writing, arranging and recording, but also embarking on a crowd funding venture to raise money to bring out this highly anticipated album, “Stories”.

The Piano Cloud has always made a particular effort to encourage our youngest members as they launch into a music career, so as the album release approached, not one, but two of our authors jumped at the chance to review it. What follows is the result – comments on each track by both Simon Reich and Milana Zilnik.

As you read, your can preview the album here (click on the title of Track One to start) :

 

The Beginning.

MZ: “The beginning” starts as hesitating, spacious, contemplating, repetitive and echoing patterns. They made me feel like the composer was able to tell more with less: minimalistic phrases can either demand more attention from the listener or serve as a pleasant background. Either way this track starts the album by grabbing my attention and wondering whether the minimalistic approach will continue.

SR: What a fantastic opening to this album – a minimalist right hand approach, with warm left hand chords filling out the harmony. The opening theme returns to book end the track. I loved the fact that you could hear all the extraneous noises created by the piano. As Jakob feverishly used the pedals in the centre section of this track, you could hear the work his feet were doing. Hammer sounds, string movement and the beautiful ambience of the studio, were all on show and only furthered the feeling of intimacy of this opening number. It was so well recorded, I felt like I was in the room with him.

But You Were Always There.

MZ: This piece strikes me as bittersweet, nostalgic, with a colorful run of harmonies, as well as chromatic moves. I particularly enjoyed the travelling over the various registers on the piano, sometimes the usage of both for a bright contrast.

SR: Bass arpeggios begin track No. 2 and gradually are supported by a slightly haunting melody. By not adhering to strict timing, this track has a real lilting feel. This eventually gives way to strongly played arpeggios that do adhere to timing strictures, and an almost completely contrasting melody line. It provides a lovely contrast to the sensitively played, breathy style that then proceeds to round out this tune.

The Breeze.

MZ: “Breeze” is haunting, moving, very rhythmic and rich in dynamic twists. The recording is very clear, with a totally live feel to it. The tempo changes from rushing to meditative, then adds more of the liveliness. I would describe this style as a blend of Modern piano with Celtic atmosphere. To me it was also a reminiscence of Dirk Maassen (another of my favorite pianists from TPC community) with a slight touch of Michael Nyman’s influence perhaps.

SR: The title sums up the picture Jakob has achieved with this lovely, flowing piece. This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, as Jakob takes us on a journey through a flowing, blowing breeze. I love the constant return to the main theme and I was humming this melody even hours after hearing it, which for me, is a true test of an engaging and memorable piece of music.

A Night Full Of Dreams.

MZ: In this next track, “Night full of dreams”, it must be getting closer to morning hours. Many changes of tempo and dynamic twists turn this night into a sunny day to me. Somewhere around 2 minutes, the night comes, nevertheless. The tonality becomes dark, minor, but morning still echoes from the distance. I could feel the conflict between Major and minor harmonies, like the light and shade, life and death that are touched in this theatrical composition. One of my favorites on this album, for sure!

SR: The most compelling part of this track is the way Jakob doesn’t stick to a strict rhythm and rolls between speeds and timing changes to infuse this tune with real emotion. There’s a lovely interplay between the right and left hand too, which enhances the rhythmic pulsing of this tender and yet at times full-bodied piece of music.

The Other World.

MZ: “The Other World” starts with clear high sounds. To me they looked like watercolors painted on silk, reminding of fairy worlds, elves and mermaids. It builds up gradually into more intense storytelling. I feel like this track could be used in a movie trailer with intrigue of a lifetime told in just few minutes of this kind of epic composition. I loved the space that is left untouched with those rests and slowdowns.

SR: I was taken immediately by the light touch of Jakob’s playing on this track, which eventually gave way to delightful, chordal work that used a melody line as its top notes. Compelling stuff.

Frozen Stars.

MZ: “Frozen stars” is kind of modern, brilliant waltz, and in spite of its name it left me with a warm, loving impression. While I was surrounded by the light, elegant texture of the sound, it got much darker – full of low and minor melodies – and then back to the light of the beginning. I was overwhelmed with the amount of emotions of such a tune.

SR: Once again, the tone and playing style matched the image conjured up by the title of the track “Frozen Stars”. As the tune progressed, it conjured up sounds of childlike classical pieces from my early days at piano lessons. The introduction of the strings in the background, really enhanced this charming tune

Rivers.

MZ: “Rivers” are indeed flowing and sparkling, with a strong pull towards a relief from the tension that is being built up along the Chopin-esque phrasing and angelic harmonies. All topped up by the twinkling of keys in the upper register of piano. With such music I could literally watch the watery view and feel the story of winds and tides. Another one of my personal favorites!

SR: Beautiful flowing arpeggios mimic the water flow of the title in track 7. Tender interplay between treble and bass notes give the track a bubbling feel, once again mimicking the way a river would run towards the sea. Jakob has created a visceral image of a river throughout this track and it is best listened to in the dark, or with your eyes closed, so you can also ‘see” the images he invokes.

A Little Waltz.

MZ: “Little waltz” has such a curious character. I felt the childish Spirit and the transformation of it into more serious atmosphere, still very busy, but less chaotic than the intro. It is such a joy to listen to this original melody based on the classical waltz patterns support.

SR: What a jaunty, smile inducing track this is! Another favorite of mine on the album. Who couldn’t be drawn in by the infectious rhythm and at times lightning speed runs? This is a truly amazing track – and it’s worth the cost of the album just to hear this tune.

Drops.

MZ: “Drops” surprised me with the low dramatic start, as I was expecting gentle high notes. Instead, I could swear, I felt guitar strums, very dramatic, passionate like the tango or Flamenco. Quite a stormy composition, and what a passionate delivery! The triple meter and fast lively tempo adds another theatrical effect, as does the surprising slower part at around 1:20. But then another very dynamic part starts, back to the lower tones of the intro. At around 3 minutes it clears out, only to come back with even bigger drive. Remarkable story to tell!

SR: Rhythmic, pulsing begging, mostly played in the lower register, lays the foundation for the tune ‘Drops”. When this tune gives way to stronger right hand accompaniment, it lifts up a couple of notches and the simple melody really shines through. I may have to stop saying this, but “Drops” is another of my favorite tracks on the album!

This Evening.

MZ: “This evening” starts with coolest jazz chords and provides a nice moment of relaxation after the previous emotional storms. However, a minute later it returns back to the album’s signature repetitive runs, which take the listener on yet another bumpy ride. Rumbling lower sounds make the chords sound edgy dark, but all is balanced out with some jazzy frame.

SR: Lovely voiced chords punctuate and enhance this laid back tune. Jakob’s trademark style eventually kicks in, as he introduces rolling arpeggios. The central chordal theme is quite stunning.

The Last Day.

MZ: “The last day” is another triple time track. And here I am really taken back into my favorite “Piano” soundtrack. Especially around 1 minute, when minor changes into Major and back with some nostalgic atmosphere. Low repetitive accents sound like a dramatic illusion of Church bells to me.

SR: Arpeggios underpin an understated right hand minor melody. Occasional bursts of left to right hand arpeggios bring up the volume, of this melancholic piece and create a somber mood that runs throughout “The Last Day”.

Running On Water.

MZ: “Running on water” is very minimalistic and spacious at the start, later reflecting the previous drama and meaningful stories. The emotion is so beautiful: masterfully building up with moving arpeggios, almost Bach-like harmonies. Changing time signatures from even to uneven makes this story tragic at times. I could relate to diminished mournful harmony and changes in the speed with echoes and broken, ripped, melody pieces both impossible and desirable. Just like running on water, literally describing such a concept.

SR: The piano work in the centre of this tune really conjures up the picture of “Running On Water”, proving yet again, that Jakob uses his music to bring images to life in our minds eye.

Goodbye.

MZ: “Goodbye” contains a memorable melody, almost simple phrasing, until the variations start. And again I hear how the left hand is stepping down with the supporting notes movement, accompanying twists from Major to minor. The whole album seems to be constructed around bitter-sweetness: neoclassical and modern become organic and related to baroque ornamentation.

SR: Left hand descending arpeggios create a beautiful cushion for the romantic sounding melody line that is the centre piece of “Goodbye”. Again, this melody stuck in my mind for sometime after listening to this lovely track.

So Long Old Man.

MZ: “So long Old Man” is like a slowing, dying heartbeat, yet not completely immersed in the loss of life. Hope is there in romantic ornaments with the most sensitive touch of a pianist.

SR: The piano is such an expressive instrument and Jakob uses a dynamic range of skills to make this ballad so touching. I can just imagine this piece of music as a soundtrack to a contemplative scene in a movie. It invokes melancholic feeling, but never makes you descend into feeling sad.

Wings.

MZ: I listen to the “Wings”, the last track of the album on this grey autumn day, right after Remembrance Day and I realize it will take me awhile to shake off the emotional impact of this album. It is my belief that the artist is showing us listeners his soul inside out. He never holds back, yet it is a mystery how the same music will have a different effect on different people, and on so many levels. This final track with both piano and synths, perhaps viola, includes Jakob’s whole musical world in a nutshell. This album cannot leave me indifferent, as it contains such a meaningful storyline and musical treasures to be shared with the world. I highly recommend this for emotional catharsis and seasonal changes…

SR: “Wings” is a vastly different tune when compared to the rest of the album. This really falls into the popular ambient genre, but is still full of all the best attributes of Jakob’s playing. Juliana Stein, the collaborator on this tune, brings a range of electronic / ambient sounds alongside Jakob’s piano work and the result is quite stunning!

Simon concludes:

“I believe Jakob has a big future before him, as an album of this class is often only arrived at after years of honing your compositional and playing skills. But amazingly, Jakob has achieved this not only on his first album, but at his young age. Keep an eye and ear out for future releases from this gifted young pianist.”

“Stories” is available to buy now – simply click on the “buy” link on the player above.

 

Throwback Thursday: Brad Hill “Untitled Piece in C#m/E”

Welcome to another Throwback Thursday, the blog series where we revisit older ‘forgotten’ tracks from The Piano Cloud community. Last week we featured Patrick Ytting‘s “Voyage Through Shallow Water,” which you can read here.

It seemed fitting this week to feature a track nominated by Patrick, titled “Untitled Piece in C#m/Em” by the astounding Brad Hill. Please enjoy the track performed live by Brad below as a Youtube clip.

The piece is so wonderfully technical, the melody is vivid, and the dynamic performance is full of energy. What amazes me the most about this piece is how Brad does not falter despite its quick nature. The performance is incredible, almost as if Brad is there solely to observe his hands doing the work. I love the intricate runs and small details through the piece, but especially the ways in which the hands seem to talk to each other. Frequently Brad passes the melody from hand to hand adding more and more to the theme as he does so. The resultant sound is a sweeping theme that feels as if it could have been written in the middle-romantic period. The resolve at the end of the track is also incredible, with it reflecting on the original opening sequence.

Such an expertly played piece deserves a great title. Please leave your suggestions in a comment below! Please come back the same time next week for another Throwback Thursday. If you have any nominations, do not hesitate to get in touch! Please also participate in the poll below! Who would you like to hear about next week?